Does Content Marketing Always Mean Writing?
The short answer is “no.” The more complicated version of than answer is that it depends upon what you mean by writing. If you mean text, then the answer is still “no,” but the reality is still that text is very much central to content marketing. Without text to be indexed, it’s very difficult to attract new visitors to your website through organic search. But if you mean writing literally, the answer is a much bigger no! Content marketing teams are exploring new ways of leveraging the unique engagement styles of experts within their firms while reducing the need and expectation for those people to write, draft, and edit articles.
In this episode of Expert Marketing Matters, Chris, Mark, and Lauren discuss a system that Lauren and her team have created to help marketing teams who struggle to find the time and people necessary to create content finally (and regularly) hit their goals.
You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.
Chris: Welcome to Expert Marketing Matters. I’m Chris Butler.
Lauren: I’m Lauren McGaha.
Mark: And I’m Mark O’Brien.
Chris: A couple of cycles ago, oh actually, actually…
Chris: Actually, two weeks ago…
Mark: Five minutes ago for us.
Lauren: That’s why we’re still so giggly about it.
Mark: Podcast magic.
Chris: I made a mention of cake, and let me just say cake is a popular subject around here because Mark has a deep history with cakes. Special, special cakes. People are going to think I’m talking about erotic cakes or something.
Mark: Oh, God. They weren’t until then.
Chris: Now they are, and you’re all welcome. We want to hear about your history with cake. But I will say that 2018 is a big year of cake for me because for Christmas this past year my wife gave me a cake a month.
Mark: Oh, right.
Lauren: Such a good gift.
Chris: Very cool.
Lauren: How’s that going?
Chris: It’s awesome. We just had our third cake.
Mark: What was it?
Chris: So they’re all homemade, that’s the key.
Mark: That’s the thing. She’s an amazing baker.
Chris: That’s right, and I get to choose it if I want, but I’ve left it up to her to decide because I like the surprise component.
Mark: It’s a lot of responsibility.
Chris: Yeah, it is, and she doesn’t like that. She’d prefer to be directed I think, but we just had one that was awesome. They’ve all been really good.
Mark: What was it?
Chris: The last one we had was a recipe from a woman who is on the Great British Baking Show. Her name is Chetna. She has a cookbook and we have that cookbook. It’s all cakes, and this cake I believe it was a cinnamon coffee cake. It was really good. It had a chocolate icing on it. It had almonds and cinnamon in it, and fresh coffee in it. It was really good.
Mark: I’m jealous of anything she bakes.
Chris: I would imagine that any of these cakes, if we were to bring them to a new business meeting would seal the deal regardless of what was said.
Mark: Okay, so I’ll try to make this story as short as possible. The short story is when I first moved to North Carolina, Eric, the founder, thought I should get into business development. I was previously a developer, which is laughable now, but I was, and I got into biz dev and Eric and I were brainstorming one day, and he was like, “What would we like? What do I like?”, talking about himself. He’s like, “I love cake. I love chocolate cake.” I’m like, “What if we sent out an email…” Okay, this is like become too confessional all of a sudden. Okay, what if we sent out an email, this is 2003 by the way, 15 years ago, to the firms in New England and North Carolina, because we were not national at all at that point in any way, and said if you have a meeting with us we’ll bring you a cake. And we did. We sent the email out, and I did, I did, I did, and I was cool with it.
Lauren: Were these like Harris Teeter cakes?
Mark: I would go get the cake from wherever, you know.
Lauren: So yes.
Mark: Sometimes they were, yeah. Sometimes it was just some pastries.
Chris: Right. There was one time…
Mark: There was one time when I was behind on time…
Chris: This is so painful.
Mark: …and, yeah, I had to pick up some pastries instead.
Chris: And where’d you get them?
Mark: At like a gas station.
Chris: So it’s like a honey bun wrapped in cellophane.
Lauren: A Little Debbie cake.
Mark: We never worked with that, we never worked with that firm. It’s really weird.
Chris: Yeah, it’s shocking. Shocking. It’s good to have humble beginnings.
Mark: It’s great.
Chris: And it’s good to be able to replay them with accuracy in your head.
Mark: And a great deal of humor.
Chris: Oh my God.
Mark: It wasn’t humiliating at the time at all. It was, I don’t know. Everything was fun then, you know. It was easy. Stakes were pretty low. Yeah, that’s the cake story. True story.
Lauren: Segue from that.
Mark: The height of marketing. The height of marketing.
Chris: I can’t do it. We do have a topic for today that has nothing to do with cake. Maybe we’ll find some way to tie it together, but I just don’t think we can. Lauren, a few cycles ago you wrote a white paper about engagement styles. Cake, I suppose, could be an engagement style if you’re that kind of guy, Mark.
Lauren: If you’re Mark.
Chris: If you’re Mark. Mark and Eric, and Chris. If I had received a cake and had the money to hire you at the time, it would have been done. But anyway, in the engagement styles your perspective was that there are many people who could contribute positively to contact marketing who may not be natural writers, and by way of contact marketing having been interpreted that way for so long might be excluded, might not be contributing, and you’re opening up to say, “Hey, there’s other ways of engaging the content. There’s other ways of capturing that knowledge and by understanding that you can create a system that brings more people to the table with less resistance.” And that began a process of rethinking, well, how does content get created? Maybe it doesn’t have to get created by the people on the team in the way that everyone thinks, and that has led you to create a whole new system for us and our clients.
Lauren: It has, because we were finding that the firms that we spoke to about this, they were limiting themselves with who was contributing to the marketing plan. They had a bunch of brilliant people internally, but because they were starting first with the question of who has the bandwidth to market, they were missing the more important question of who has the right perspective, who has the expertise that needs to be expressed regularly inside the marketing plan, because those people, even though they’ve got the most experience or the most interesting things to say, they don’t have time to do it so they’re off the table. And that was leading firms to give the very important job of marketing to somebody who happened to have the time to do it, but maybe didn’t have all of the relevant perspective or expertise to do it well.
And so we did kind of take a step back and start thinking about how can we begin to help these firms bring the right people into the fold, and that got us down this road of communication styles, and one of the most popular ones that we encounter is the engagement style of the orator, or the person who is very good at discussing their expertise. They’re really good at talking about a topic, and doing so in a really inspiring or charismatic way, one that’s really persuasive and engaging, but if you ask that person to sit down and write an article about that subject many times throughout the quarter, through the month, it’s just not going to happen. It’s not within their natural interest or skill set, frankly.
Chris: Right. Even for a good writer, an empty text editor can be entirely intimidating, especially under the [crosstalk 00:06:42]
Lauren: Yeah, it can be paralyzing. So what we began to look at was how do we begin to help these firms extract their best thinking regardless of their interest in sitting down and writing an article, and we have recently unveiled a new service that helps people do just that. So, what we are doing is we are assisting with content development on behalf of our clients, but we’re doing so in an interview format.
So basically we are helping the firms identify who the right people are inside of the organization to be a part of the marketing team, and then we are building out the strategy to help them identify who they should be talking to and what the messaging strategy is, and what the appropriate subjects are to be covered inside of that messaging strategy. And then we sit down with them for an hour and we talk about a few topics inside of that hour, and let that person just go. We give them a little bit of a structure to prepare, ask them leading questions in advance of the interview so that they can collect their thoughts, but we don’t ask them to write an outline, or write an article of any kind, and then it just turns into a conversation and it’s really casual. We just record it and they talk about the subject at hand, and then we have the ability to take that recording, take the notes that they had used to prepare their argument, and then we produce the working draft of it, the first full draft of that article, and then it becomes way easier for the firm to run with from there.
Chris: And it sounds to me like this system solves two particular pain points that you’ve observed our clients have over and over again. One is, do I have the time to write? How do I get that text done? But also is it the right thing to be said, the right quality from the right person, because sitting somebody in front of a microphone and getting a transcript of that, that’s the easiest way to do what you’re talking about, but there’s a problem with that, right?
Lauren: Yeah, because what we found is that just publishing a transcript alone is not going to be as effective at engaging readers online. And you’re right, the two problems that we cite again and again, the two flaws that we’ve seen with content marketing programs of firms that we start to work with are one, there’s not enough volume of content on the site, and two, the messaging strategy is off. They’re not talking about the right things, and I think that both of those problems stem from the challenge of time, finding time to sit down and actually write is really difficult, so when you do carve out a few minutes you’re not as likely to write something that’s strategically sound, you’re going to write something that comes to mind easily so you can knock it out and move on to the next thing.
Chris: I also like that the solution you’ve come up with synthesizes two aspects of an older approach that we had to this engagement style, which was that there are listeners and there are talkers. Talkers work through ideas regardless of who’s listening, they can just talk through them, and they need to say words in order to process their thinking. Listeners need it to be a conversation. They need to say things, hear something said back, and it needs to go back and forth. By having the interview format you get both, right? You’re asking somebody questions, giving them something to respond to. That person can talk as much as they want, in theory, given the time window you set up, but also their whole thinking might change in that moment based on how the question’s been asked, which I think is really nice.
Mark: Yeah, that’s something I’ve experienced because I noticed long ago that I formulate ideas as they come out of my mouth, right? For a while that felt like, well, that’s sloppy and that’s irresponsible, et cetera, but then I was like, no, that’s just how my mind works. It’s just the truth of it, and so we used to experiment with some dictation software, and I realized that when I’m just sitting by myself doing that it doesn’t happen. I need to actually have an individual I’m in communication with for my mind to work that way. And that was part of the inspiration, it seems, for this program, to have a conversation but have it be a very well structured conversation.
Lauren: Yeah. I think what you’re talking about here is a really common pattern among a lot of our clients, too, and I think a lot of them had developed the perspective of it was a bad thing, like, “Oh, I’m not a natural writer.” And they kind of developed a sense of shame, like, “I should be doing this and I’m not because I’m just not good at it, or my mind doesn’t work that way.” And I think when you remove the layer of expectation that you should be fitting some mold, that to do marketing well you have to be an excellent writer and you have to sit down and be able to crank out these articles all the time, I think if you remove that expectation, just say, “No, this is just how you communicate and it’s okay,” so let’s think creatively about how we get that thinking into a form that is marketable without asking you to change who you inherently are.
Mark: And conveying the expertise itself. We’ve long felt like ghostwriting isn’t really a viable approach to content development, and neither is just complete outsourcing of content to copy writers, that the expertise has to be the individual’s expertise in the way they say it, because their language patterns are going to resonate with the prospect, because they’ve got a lot of empathy for the prospect, because they really understand the prospect, and someone else just can’t write it that way, so that’s why we really needed their words to be what’s on the record.
Lauren: And that was what was tricky about trying to figure out exactly how to build this service, because that has been our position, that the thought leadership has to come from inside of the organization. But what I like about this service is that it’s a process that allows them to be the ones driving conversation, them to be the ones driving the expertise that gets put into the article, but it still asks them to do a little bit of finessing. They get it back and they’re going to edit it, they’re going to clean it up a little bit and make sure it still sounds like them, and I think that’s a good thing because outsourcing would be, “I’m going to outsource this to a writer and give them a topic and then dust my hands of it and it’s going to get published at the site and I may or may not read it.” And I think that’s a misstep.
Mark: Yeah, [inaudible 00:12:34] midpoint between the two things you just mentioned is we do the recording, and the endpoint is they get it to look at, but it’s not just a transcript. And that’s one of the things we’ve discovered recently is that transcripts don’t do well, at all, with the organic idexable search content. It’s like a 1% performance rate compared to an actually written blog post. So they get the words, but then the actual work on our side, the content creation on our side, is taking their words and making it into a really strong, standalone piece without changing their words or changing the intent.
Chris: Right. The person who provides this has to have a very specific kind of expertise, which is being able to hear things and lead a conversation, lead an interview, but also be able to take all that material and figure out what’s the angle here and write something to be read.
Mark: The voice.
Chris: Right, not just translate words from someone’s mouth to a text editor. It’s a really particular kind of skill, and I think that does speak directly to what you just said, which is that there’s a meaningful difference between the intent of the words that you put on your site to be indexed. Is the intent there just to be there as an echo, like the words that will be under this podcast that we’re recording right now? Or is the intent to have those words there to be read?
For those of you listening who are writers, who think that writing is the primary way of sharing expertise, because there are writers out there who probably believe this and for good reason, that’s your engagement style, there are so many people that you work with that are out there in the world who have deep, deep expertise who will never be as good a writer as you, and never want to be, and that’s totally okay. And that’s what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to make sure that the primary purpose of content marketing, which is sharing expertise with the unaware can be participated in by those who hold the expertise, and if writers are the only people who participate in that, that’s like a tiny piece of the cake, of the expertise cake. It’s a tiny slice.
Lauren: There it is. Well done. Good job, Chris.
Chris: It’s a tiny slice, but I’m excited about it for that reason. We’ve been practicing this as a group for so long now, and I think we’ve all learned different…I’ve learned about my own engagement styles, and I used to think I was primarily just a writer, and I like to write, but I also like to do this, and I like to talk with people, and I think experiencing all those things and understanding the role they play in this thing that we’re trying to do for our business, it’s opened my mind up completely to how it gets done.
Lauren: Yeah, I mean, it’s a freeing exercise. It changes the way firms think about who is available to contribute to their marketing, which gives more time to everyone. I mean even the people who are primarily writers, and will continue to be writers inside of the organization, were probably carrying too heavy of a load for the firm’s marketing because everybody just assumes that’s the person who writes things down, and so they’re the ones who are carrying the bulk of the marketing responsibility, and now that’s not the case. Other people can definitely join in, and should join in because they’ve got different perspectives than those excellent writers on staff.
Chris: I think the people for whom this kind of approach to contact marketing is going to serve best are the people who are practitioners and marketers at the same time, meaning that the expertise they’re talking about is the expertise they wield directly with their clients, and in some large organizations that’s not true. You’ve got the marketing division, and you’ve got the rest of the company, and the marketing division has to be really good at figuring out how to get that intelligence into their space to even understand it themselves. Maybe their primary thing is marketing, but what they’re marketing has nothing to do with that. We are fortunate to be in the space where it’s all mixed together. When you are brokering expertise, when you sell expertise, a professional service of some kind, marketing is not far away from that even if what you’re selling isn’t marketing, per se. It’s so close, so I think we’re fortunate to be able to have those things so intimately tied together.
Chris: Anything else? We could wrap up early.
Lauren: Yeah, maybe.
Chris: Well, I’ll say this on your behalf. If this is interesting to you, you may have received an email about it if you’re a subscriber. If you’re not, you should subscribe to what we’ve got going on, but this is something new, and really I don’t think there are that many services out there like this. There’s lots of ghostwriting services, there’s lots of transcription services. I think what you’re doing is trailblazing a bit, and therefore it might be hard to understand when someone first hears it. “Well, wait a minute, is this ghostwriting? Is it not? What is this?” If you’re interested, if you’ve got this problem, can’t get it done, you know that there’s something that you have to share and you just can’t get there, you should talk to Lauren, talk to the team here about it.
Mark: Yeah, that’s a little more direct than we usually are in these formats, but it’s the truth.
Chris: But I’ve got a cake right here, so…
Mark: Free cake with every writing service. Full circle. Well, thanks everybody.