If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, will you truly stand out?
It’s not enough to just buy-in to the concept of content marketing. You have to find new ways to reach your audience.
Master marketer Mark Schaefer explains how to determine the content strategy that best suits your particular business.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to identify golden opportunities for content marketing
- The two top-level content strategies that exist
- How to create stand-out content in a saturated market
- How to get your content to be shared more
Amanda: I’m thrilled to welcome to the show a leading marketing authority, prominent keynote speaker, bestselling author, Marketing Companion Podcast co-host and world-renowned blogger and strategist Mark Schaefer. Welcome to the show, Mark.
Mark: Well I was wondering where you’re going there because you were introducing this great speaker. I thought, wow, I can’t wait to hear this guy. Thank you so much for your kind introduction.
Amanda: Of course. Thank you so much for being on the show. I’ve been really looking forward to our conversation because you spend a lot of your career examining how consumers have evolved and how marketing needs to play catch up and while the effects strategy for sure for a lot of the people listening, I think it also provides a really great framework for communicating the strategy to other people who might not be completely in the know as to what’s going on with consumers and with marketing.
Mark: That’s definitely what my new book is about. I wrote a book that came out a little while ago called Marketing Rebellion and that really is a wakeup call. I found that really, marketers are in this place where they’re doing things the way they’ve always done things. Or maybe they iterate a little bit and they do a little bit better on their ad words or they do a little bit better on the rest. But consumers have moved away from us. These hyper empowered consumers have moved away and they’re enabled by tech. They’ve got the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the palm of their hands. And their expectation is different. And if you’re doing things the old way, chances are they’re blocking you. They’re not hearing you; they’re not seeing your ads and your marketing like they used to. So it’s a challenging time to try to break through.
Amanda: I’ve definitely seen a lot of companies, they want to keep doing what everybody else is doing, otherwise they feel like they’re left out or you’re going to get left behind. But there’s a flaw in that strategy. Right.
Mark: Well unfortunately, I think that a lot of companies are creating content because they’re afraid not to. I think you are hinting at that and they look at what the other companies are doing and what I see a lot of the time is they’re just creating random acts of content. Look, content marketing just doesn’t work like it did 10 years ago or even five years ago or even three years ago. We’re in this world of a really information saturation and a lot of market niches, so we’ve got to find new ideas and new strategies to break through.
You just can’t do what everybody else is doing. And in my classes I use this analogy of a baseball player. Back in the early days of baseball, there was this guy, his name was Willie Keeler. He was five foot, four inches tall, one of the smallest men to ever play professional baseball. And all the other big guys, they’re slugging the ball. He couldn’t do that. He developed this new way to hit where he would look, where the defense was and just slap the ball in the hole where they weren’t standing and it was so successful. He won two batting titles and one time a reporter asked him, Mr Keeler, what’s the source of your success? He said, well, it’s really quite easy. I just hit them where they aren’t. And that’s where marketing has to be too. If your market is saturated with blogs or videos or whatever, you’ve got to find a way to maneuver in a different way. The real key to success in content marketing doesn’t start with content. It starts with finding a way that you can maneuver.
Amanda: And you talk about this concept in your book content code about content saturation. How do you know if you’re in an industry where you’ve reached that point?
Mark: Well, there are a lot of little ways that you can do it. Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeve and do some research and look around. But one of the shortcuts that I use is by examining the domain authority of your competitors. So for your listeners, they might not be familiar with that term. Domain authority is kind of a secret number that Google applies to your website and everyone’s website and it’s a number from zero to 100 and based on the strength of your number, compared to your competitors, that will determine who is getting the Google search traffic. You have a higher number; you’re going to do better. Now, here’s the bad news. We don’t know that number. Here’s the good news. There are companies out there who estimate that number. They try to calculate how Google determines this and then applies those algorithms to your website. And we can kind of see where we are.
The two companies out there, I mean there are a lot of different places to get that, but the two companies that I see most people using are Moz, M-O-Z and SEMrush that’s S-E-M like search engine marketing rush, R-U-S-H and these are subscription sites, but both of these sites also have a free application on there where you can try it out. You can put your website in there and they’ll give you a couple numbers. Now if your number is a 24 which is kind of below average, I’d say 50 is really good. If you’re a 24 and your competitors are 74, that would indicate they have a lot more content and they’ve been doing it for a very long time and I could predict without ever looking at that site that that is a very content rich site and you’re going to have to try to do something else.
You’re going to have to try to create something different than what they’re doing and there are lots of different options out there. There’s a world of content opportunities out there, but that would give you an indication that your competitors are probably winning the search results pretty handily and you’re going to have to get creative. You can’t just do what they do. Now the good news is if all of your competitors are in their 20s, that is a golden opportunity for you because none of your competitors are really creating much content. That would be an indicator that the information density in your niche is pretty low. And that’s a great opportunity for content marketing.
Amanda: That makes a lot of sense. And I think it’s a great way for people to show their stakeholders when they do need to break outside of the box and try something different. And I think in your book you also were talking about, because that can be overwhelming too to realize, okay we’re in a saturated market, now what? We have to dig in and figure out what’s going to be valuable and different. And you gave a few suggestions and I think one of them was looking at subtopics. If you aren’t going to be able to compete in something pretty broad the major category that maybe there are opportunities in some subtopic areas, right?
Mark: I spent a lot of time in the book about this idea of maneuverability and not just doing what everybody else is doing. And if you’re trying to compete on the great big meaty keywords that everybody’s fighting for, then that’s going to be difficult. And let me step back for a minute because of the increasing information density, SEO is becoming more difficult, is becoming actually less of a viable alternative for many businesses because if you don’t get the top two search results. If you’re not in one of the top two or maybe three of the most search results, you’re probably going to be invisible. And in many industries, the winners of the search results are like the mean junk yard dogs of the industry. They’re competing; they’re spending lots of money on this. They’re creating lots of content. And if you’re not one of the main junk yard dogs, what do you do?
Now I’m an example of that. I’m a digital marketing consultant and an author. Now, how many digital marketing consultants are there? A bazillion. Am I ever going to win the search results for digital marketing consultant? The answer to that is no. I have to look at an alternative. I’ve got to maneuver in different way. And what I do is I use a content strategy based on authority. I’m not going to rely on Google and search results. I’ve got to have people find me a different way. And that’s by creating content that’s so interesting, so relevant, so compelling that they’re going to subscribe to me, they’re going to read what I have to say and they’re going to share my posts with others. There are really two different content strategies that you can employ and there’s one aimed at SEO. That’s where most people think; that’s where most of their heads go. But increasingly this content strategy based on authority is becoming more important for many businesses.
Amanda: Does that relate to? I think you mentioned in the book it was different types of content called the three Hs – hygiene content, hub content and hero content. It sounds like what you’re describing is putting more of an emphasis sometimes on the hero content side. Can you explain a little bit about what that means?
Mark: Yes. A few years ago, YouTube did a study and it came out with this research that said that brands that are most successful on the web with their content create actually three different kinds of content. The first one is hygiene, and that’s the one that we’ve been talking about that would help you with your SEO. Hygiene is kind of a weird word for content, but what hygiene content means is that this is the everyday content that helps people solve the problems they’re facing. It answers their questions. An example would be North Face has tons of content to help you get ready for a trail run or a track or rock climbing. You can learn about how to stretch, how to exercise, what kind of nutrition that you need, what kind of supplements that you need. So that is hygiene content. You’ve got a question, you Google it and you try to find the answer. Now the problem with hygiene content is it’s really good for SEO, but most of the time when people get their answer, then they leave.
The next type of content is hub content. Hub content is more of the storytelling that we like to see on the web. We might stumble onto a site and we just see, oh my gosh, that was interesting. I want to watch another video, I want to watch another video, or I want to read another blog post or listen to another podcast episode. This is more than just helping people, help them solve their problems. It’s entertaining them in a way; it’s captivating them in a way. And through my blog and my podcast, this is really the strategy that I employ. What I’m known for is talking about marketing trends I’m talking about. I love thinking about what’s next, where do we need to go? How do we get prepared for what’s coming next? That’s the world I live in. I write a lot about that on my blog and on my podcast, which you mentioned is called the marketing companion. So that would be hub content.
Now a level above that is called hero content. this is like big Hollywood production kind of content that’s meant to go viral. And we see a lot of companies, a lot of big brands doing this. Now a lot of the car companies are doing this, some of the retailers are doing this where they’re creating something that’s almost like a mini movie that’s meant to get shared, thousands and thousands or even millions of times. It doesn’t have to be the greatest content on earth, but it might have to be the greatest content that your audience has ever seen. So those are the three types of content. Again, that’s something I talked about in the book as another way to maneuver.
Amanda: To identify where those possibilities might lie. Again, if your competitors are exceeding in some parts, but not all three of these types.
Mark: Yes, that’s exactly right.
Amanda: Got it. Creating the content, it’s just one piece of this. The next piece is promoting it and there’s this concept you talk about called ignition. Content ignition… How would you describe that?
Mark: Well, it’s very simple. The economic value of content that doesn’t move, this is not seen and shared is zero. And unfortunately, that’s the case for a lot of companies. I’ve seen statistics over and over again that indicate that 80% of the content on a B2B website is never seen. these are companies that are wasting a lot of money. They drank the Kool-Aid of content marketing; they’re creating content and nothing’s happening.
Yes, you do need to have great content. Yes, you do need to build an audience, but every marketing department today also needs to build a competency in what I call ignition, and this is very, very powerful. If you think about what happens when content moves, it provides a very powerful business case for this idea of ignition. There’s research I cite in the book from a wonderful study that was done by the New York Times and they showed that 85% of the people who share content say I understand this company or this product better than I did before I saw it. They’re becoming advocates, organic advocates, social sharing that represents. It’s better than any ad that you could take out because these people in a virtual way are standing up and saying, I believe in this company and I’m going to share it with you or i learn something or this entertain me in some of the way and i want to share it with you.
The other important statistic I cite in the book shows that more than 70% of the people who see content being shared on the web have their purchasing behavior changed. And this is something I talk a lot about in my new book, Marketing Rebellion because today the customers are the marketers, the content, and the ideas that are shared from person to person. That’s what’s selling stuff today. People don’t believe our ads and our branding and our PR like they used to. Today, they believe each other. The customer is the marketer. If we can find ways to get that content to move, then that is really what marketing is truly about today because that’s what providing the economic value to your marketing
Amanda: And it gives you more leeway, especially if you’re saying you’re one of these industries where SEO isn’t going to be your end all be all if you can’t compete for some of these. Because that’s one of the ways people see content is that it appears in search results, but there are other ways to get content that’s momentum. Like you’re saying, social is a great channel for that.
Mark: Well, Amanda, you’re exactly right. You’re 100% right because we just can’t depend on SEO or Google or Facebook or these other platforms to display our content organically necessarily, and I think focusing on this idea of ignition drives the right behaviors in marketing departments today. If you think about what would we have to do to get our content shared more? Number one, you’ve got to create content that’s really aligned with your customers’ needs so they want to share it. Number two, you’ve got to be really connected to the audiences and find the places where people are looking for that kind of content. And number three, you’ve got to show up. You’ve got to reward these people, the people who are sharing your content. I’d call that in the book. I call that the alpha audience. These are your most important fans. Do you know who they are? You need to reward them. You need to treat them like Kings and Queens because these are the people who are delivering the economic value to your marketing.
Amanda: What are some examples of those types of awards?
Mark: Well, I’ve experimented with a lot of different things but here’s the main idea. For most companies unless you’re in the entertainment business, unless you’re a celebrity or something like that. For most companies, the people who are sharing your content, it’s not millions and millions or even thousands of people. It’s probably a few people, maybe a few dozen people. One of the things that I do is when I discover the people who are really my super fans, they just show up. They share my content. They’ll comment and suggest some of the things that I write for others, I’ll call them up and this happened one time there was a woman that I’d never heard of her before and she posted a picture on Twitter and she had bought all of my books and she lined them up on her couch and she took a picture of all my books and she said, I’m so happy I have the whole collection of Mark Schaefer’s books. And I was so touched by that I looked up her website and I found her phone number and I called her up and I think it was the shortest phone call ever. She was so dumbfounded that I’d actually called her.
Now there’s an important idea here and that is I dug below the dashboard. If I had just been looking at a social media dashboard, I would have never really discovered how important that tweet was. It would have showed up as a mention. If, you know, if I’m using something that shows sentiment analysis, it might’ve showed up as positive sentiment. But here’s a person that I’ve never heard of before, basically saying, I love this guy. He’s my favorite. Now isn’t that important to know we should, we don’t have enough of those people in the world. So we’ve got to dig in a little deeper and we’ve got to pay attention for the people who are sending us those little love notes.
Now just to finish the story, this woman has become a good friend of mine and she teaches classes. She uses my book in her classes, she’s come to my talks and she’s become just a great supporter and I think that only would have happened because I took that extra step. And our audience on social media are weak relational links. They’re not really actionable. They only become actionable when you make that human contact and take it to the next level
Amanda: And this is how you round out your Marketing Rebellion book. It’s basically this thesis of the most human company will win.
Mark: Right. If I’m the only author calling up the people who read my book, they’re going to buy all my books and they’re going to leave good reviews and they’re going to tell others because they’re going to say, oh my gosh, you’ll never believe this. I’ve got a call from the author of the book. I just did this yesterday. I was in an airport and a friend of mine said, my daughter’s in high school and she’s sort of struggling a bit in high school and she found your book. I had your book and she just picked up this book and she came to me and she said, dad, I love this Marketing Rebellion book. I’m fascinated by this. I think I’m really interested in this and I was so touched that this high school student maybe has started to find her place. I asked my friend, I said, look, give me your number. I’ll call her up just to encourage her. And Oh my gosh, she was so excited. She’s probably not going to hire me someday, but it’s a way for me to reach out and just encourage people and build fans.
Amanda: Do you think why some companies hesitate to do kind of these more human tactics is because of the lack of metrics that can be associated with them?
Mark: I think that’s a big idea. Amanda, I really agree with you. We love things like mentions and likes because it’s quantifiable. It’s really easy to measure, but those measures are some of the least important metrics that are out there. Really what we’re trying to do to get people to buy from us is to build some emotional connection to those people over time. It means building relationships and that doesn’t happen right away. And by the way, it also doesn’t fit into a quarterly sales plan. And so we have to think about marketing in a new way. To win today it requires an entirely different mind-set to relate to consumers on their terms, on human terms. And that’s one of the reasons why I think small businesses are ideally suited to win in this environment because a lot of the times their personal brand, who they are and how they show up, that is the brand and they’re in a great position to connect to people in a very personal and human way compared to these big multinational companies.
Amanda: It’s just more organic that way. What would you recommend for people who are trying to pitch content that falls under this kind of category of being more human to their leadership who might not be familiar with this concept at all?
Mark: I think there are two things. Number one, I think you really need to start with research. And I think this is a big problem where when it comes to pitching, it’s just like, okay, we’re going to create a blog because our competitors have a blog and we feel like we’re falling behind her. We need an Instagram account because everybody has an Instagram account. If I was a leader, a marketing leader in a company that would not convince me. What I want to see is what we talked a little bit about on this podcast. How do we stack up? Now, the nice thing about this idea of domain authority, it’s a number people can understand and if our competitors are 20s and we’re a 30 that represents an opportunity. That is something that’s measurable related to content marketing that any sort of boss would understand.
Number one, start with research. Don’t start with content. Start with an analysis of your competitors and show how content is going to create some long-term business benefit. Number two, you know honestly the reason I wrote this book, Marketing Rebellion, my new book is to lay out the business case. The Marketing Rebellion that is the business case for content marketing today. So if you’re struggling, it’s a fun book to read. It’s a relatively easy book to read. There’s not a lot of very technical concepts or anything in it. There are some fun stories and even some humor in it.
If you read the Marketing Rebellion, I think you can’t help but go, Oh, I get it now. That’s where the world is. Now I understand where you’re going with this. And that’s been the reaction, Amanda. I mean, look, it’s sort of a controversial book in some ways because it says the way you did things before, doesn’t work anymore. But instead of being controversial, what I’m finding is people are embracing it. They’re saying, yep, we know we see this happening, we know we need to change. And you kind of set the path forward for us. So, I think that’s what’s happening the book is being very effective in that way.
Amanda: Absolutely. When I was reading it, I had the same impression where I could see that some people might be nervous about wanting to make big changes. But as you’re reading it and you’re seeing the examples and you recognize it in own work, it’s really hard to deny that what’s occurring.
Mark: All the things I’ve been trying to explain to my boss here it is in one book backed up by data. This is not Mark Schaefer’s opinion of the world. This is research that’s coming from Accenture, McKinsey, Deloitte, and Harvard. So you can’t really deny it. It’s a picture of the world today.
Amanda: It is. I highly recommend it to anybody listening and I think this conversation has been really valuable. And the last question I want to ask you, it’s something that I ask everybody who is on the show, which is, we’re talking about taking this kind of information and pitching your leadership. What do you think are the biggest mistakes that marketers make when they make those types of pitches?
Mark: Well, I think it’s a lot of the things that we’ve talked about. Number one is not starting from a place of research and data and when people start from a place of, well this is something I read in a blog post or this is something that I learned at a webinar then that’s not really compelling. Business leaders want to know very specifically how is this going to impact my business.
The second mistake, maybe the biggest mistake out there today is not differentiating your content is just doing what everybody else is doing. Either you’re just becoming a content marketing lemming, listening to what the guru says and following them off a cliff. You need to think for yourself and you don’t have to follow every trend. You need to really be tuned into your specific market. What are your competitors doing? What are your customers asking for? Where are they going to get their information? We talked about the different types of content like hygiene, hub and hero. Where is our market? Where are our competitors? What should we be doing? You need to think it through with a plan and a strategy before just dumping content out there because you’re afraid not to.
Amanda: I totally agree. I think it’s so easy to get sucked into all the content that’s out there with the best practices and what you feel like everybody should be doing, but ultimately it depends on your audience.
Mark: A lot of the best practices are out there, they’re just iterative anyway. You know how to do a little bit better on Pinterest or how to do a little bit better on that, and it’s the same stuff that all your competitors are reading too, so you’ve got to zig when everybody else is zagging.
Amanda: Knowing the objective of this podcast is to help people get buy in for their content. Do you recommend any one who should be on the show in the future as a guest?
Mark: Well, there are so many very wonderful thought leaders out there. One of my favorite who I respect quite a bit is Jay Baer. I think he would be a great guest. Another guest would, Brooke Sellas, who’s my co-host on the Marketing Companion podcast. She’s doing some very innovative things about using social listening to help define, how you maneuver with content marketing.
Amanda: Actually, just had Brooke on the show to talk about that exact thing. So I’m so happy to hear that.
Mark: Well, I didn’t know she didn’t tell me that.
Mark: So good. I predicted that she’d be a good guest.
Amanda: Awesome. I really enjoyed hearing about social listening. It was a concept I hadn’t heard of, so that was a lot of fun and if you haven’t checked out their Marketing Companion Podcast because she’s the co-host. Definitely make sure to check that out everyone.
Mark: We have fun doing it.
Amanda: Thank you so much for being on the show, Mark. I really appreciate it.
Mark: It’s my pleasure, Amanda. Thank you so much for reading my books and being so well prepared with your questions. It was a pleasure.
Amanda: Oh, that means a lot. Thank you.