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The Complexity of the Content Landscape

Content Strategy Beyond Blogging

Putting content to work for you is more than just setting up a blog and writing every now and then. Much more! But you already knew that. But… are you sure you know the best types of content to create in order to support your expertise? Are you sure you know who should be creating it, and what format suits them best? And once you’ve decided on the types of content you want to create, are you sure you can sustain it all?

In this episode of Expert Marketing Matters, Chris and Lauren cover how the different types of gated content have evolved, and how firms at various stages of marketing maturity can leverage them to engage prospects.

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode Transcript

Chris: Welcome to expert marketing matters. I’m Chris Butler

Lauren: and I’m Lauren McGaha.

Chris: So the last time we recorded Lauren, we were talking about a bunch of different factors that we thought were important to marketing and one of the ones you brought up, we realized in the course of that conversation really was so big, it merited it’s own conversation. You mentioned something about how really content and the types of content that people are creating today, the kinds of content that you and your team are advising people to create are so complicated that it’s really grown past beyond what most people associate with that word with content, what they expect to be creating for marketing purposes. So it seems like we should come back to that and get into it a lot more in depth because I know you have a lot to say about that topic.

Lauren: Yeah, it has. I think the thing that has been striking me in recent months is just how complex the landscape of content portfolios has become, really. We could say that in the past, content marketing was sort of defined as as blogging and then maybe including some sort of asset on the site that could be converted on that was dated behind a form. And while most of the firms that we’re working with are still sort of thinking about their content in those two camps, gated content and ungated content, the options inside of each one of those camps has really expanded and grown over time. And there are just so many choices that there didn’t used to be before.

Chris: Right. And I guess I’m kind of curious, you know, when we talk about gated content, and we’ve talked about that in the show before, but how would you define that in its most general sense? So someone’s listening to this, they’ve heard that before, they’re not exactly sure what you mean. What does gated content mean to you?

Lauren: Gated content is content that is primarily accessible after a form submission. So it is intended to drive conversions on the website and primarily you access the insight after you give up a little information about yourself through a form submission.

Chris: Right. And the advantage in creating that is that that allows you to deepen your knowledge of the person accessing the content. It makes there a little bit of a barrier to entry, so it means, or you assume that maybe some people with a little bit more serious intent will engage with that content. Is there a kind of content that you would generally suggest? Not from a form standpoint, but in terms of what is actually being written about or what the purpose of that piece of content is. What makes for a good piece of gated content? Because I know that what we’re going to get into is that’s really evolved. That’s changed from one thing to another.

Lauren: Well, the answer to your question is it depends on the maturity of the firm who’s putting together this content marketing plan, their marketing maturity, I mean.

Chris: Right.

Lauren: There are certain types of gated content that are better suited for firms who have built up a bit of a following, a bit of a fan base. Because those types of gated content ask a little bit more of the readers. So I’m thinking of things like a traditional white paper, which would be a primarily text-based piece of content that you’re not going to get through in a couple of minutes. Typically the topics for a white paper are more expansive. They go deeper and they’re a longer read, not because there’s a certain word count that is required in order for a piece of content to sort of count as a white paper, but generally speaking, those topics just go so far in depth that you’re not going to get through it in a couple of minutes.

Chris: Right.

Lauren: We can say the same thing about a webinar. A webinar’s not going to be a few minutes either. A webinars kind of thing that somebody’s going to be giving up, not just information about themselves to access that content, but also their time. They’re going to sit through a presentation. They’re in some cases going to be contributing to a Q and A at the end. The focus of a prospect who is willing to participate in that kind of event indicates that they’re at a level where they’re willing to not just give up information, but they see you as an expert enough that they’re going to give up some time to hear what you have to say.

Chris: I think something we’ve also talked about in the past is that if you’re that type of organization where you, you have a healthy audience, you know you’ve been communicating with them for a number of years and you feel like you have the capacity to generate a variety of different types of content every month. Would it be the case that you know a good fit for a piece of gated content, whether it’s a webinar or a white paper would be when you’ve got some knowledge that not necessarily consider proprietary but considered of a higher value in and of itself. Like for instance, perhaps the kind of thing that you wouldn’t necessarily want to share with a competitor or maybe some kind of strategic perspective that you want to go on the record with that’s critical to what you do, but not necessarily something you’d just want to willingly put in a blog? Like do you have a sense of that sort of value separation between the types of content?

Lauren: Sure. I think anything that you determine warrants being put behind a form, your readers are going to assume that it’s a deeper level of value.

Chris: Yeah.

Lauren: And so yeah, I think there is a softer component to evaluating whether or not a piece of content is appropriate to be gated behind a form and that is one of the criteria that you would consider. That being said, I don’t think that your ungated content, that things that you put in your blogs, those are necessarily off limits for putting in some of that deeper level strategic thinking. I think that has its place as well. One area of separation that I work with with my clients in that regard is they may use their blogs to talk in theory about a particular strategy, or perspective, or philosophical approach to something, but then the gated asset is something that allows the reader to kind of practically apply that thinking to their situation. It’s a little bit more tactical. It might be like a tool of some kind.

Chris: Yeah. So maybe we take a step back because so far we’ve been talking about things like white papers and webinars. And that’s as you point out, a good fit for the sort of advanced organization, the organization that has an audience. So what about those that are just getting started? So maybe they’ve been working in their field for many, many years, but they just haven’t done that much content marketing, but you want to get them into a sort of transactional content space sooner. How does that look? Is that sort of the flip side of what we’re talking about?

Lauren: Sort of? Yeah. So there are different marketing objectives for different firms. So yeah, as we’re pointing out, the more mature firm the one that has been perhaps blogging for a while and is starting to see traffic come to the site, is starting to see a heartbeat on their email list. Their engagement metrics are good both on the site and through their outbound email communications. Those are the ones who are, who are ready to pursue a gated content strategy that would promote things like those white papers and webinars that require a little more of the prospect. Now for those firms who have not yet achieved that level of success with their content marketing, first and foremost, they’re going to want to start with really prioritizing just the blogging strategy for a little while while they get traffic up to the site. Because you’re going to want to get that activity and you’re going to basically want to get eyeballs on your site so people understand what your insight is, what your expertise is, and so you start to build that fan base.

Lauren: The other part to consider though is that we say this all the time, that blogging in and of itself is not content marketing. Because there’s not a lot of conversion opportunity for the marketer with just a blog. You could sign up to receive the blog to your inbox, but that’s about it. So what we’ve been working with a lot of firms on now is to couple their blogging strategy with a conversion based strategy that includes something that we call content upgrades. So a content upgrade is a bonus piece of content that is related to a specific blog article and it is gated, that ones particular asset is gated and it lives on that blog detail page. But because it is so specific to the blog at hand and it lives in the context of an article detail page, the reader can still get value from that page on the site without completing the form submission. So they can choose to submit the form and get the extra kind of bonus content or they can ignore that form altogether and still get a lot of value from that organization.

Chris: Right? But those who take advantage of the gated piece itself, the content upgrade that you’re describing, they get maybe a little piece of tactical information that helps them apply the knowledge in that blog post, but also they’re just generally deepening their engagement with you because for instance, you’re going to get some information about them. The more they transact and see what kinds of things you’re offering, the more they’re likely to do that in other places as well. So it’s kind of a win win.

Lauren: Exactly, exactly.

Lauren: And it tends to be a lower barrier to entry in terms of, you know, a colder prospect who doesn’t know you. You are able to prove yourself through the insight that you’re sharing through the blog post on that page that they didn’t have to submit any form to access. And then there, yeah, there’s this bonus content that’s very specifically related to the topic at hand on that page and that’s why we see, I mean the conversion rate tends to be higher on these specific pages than the conversion rate for the asset, like a white paper or a webinar that’s promoted globally across the site. So more people are seeing it and it may or may not be applicable to what they care about in that moment.

Chris: Right. And it’s because you know dynamically what you described before with the white paper, you’re basically saying to someone, hey, fill out this form before you can see anything. And with this upgrade, you’ve already given them enough to sort of entice, entice is the wrong word, cause it sounds manipulative. But you’ve given them enough information that it makes them excited about taking that next step and they realize that that next step, they’ve already come 75% of the way.

Lauren: I think it frames the marketer as being even more generous.

Chris: Right.

Lauren: Whereas again, if you haven’t built up the credibility and the trust with your market yet and you present them with a white paper or a webinar or some other asset that they don’t really have any context for, they may or may not trust you. But you, with a content upgrade, you’ve been able to kind of prove yourself to that person and you’re saying, oh, and by the way, we’ve also got this other thing that’s related to what you’ve been reading about and it’s almost like a gift.

Chris: Right. And it especially feels that way when that other thing feels like a tool. For instance, you know, if you’re saying, hey, here’s some free information, but it’s actually not free, you’ve got to give us information to get it as opposed to, hey, here’s some free information you had to give us nothing to get it, but hey if you want a tool that helps you apply that, that’s also free. Just give us, you know, your name and email. I think that does feel a whole lot more generous and it also gets them further than otherwise because they would’ve had to come up with that tool on their own.

Chris: With that being said, I’m kind of curious if you could describe a few examples that you think are great fits for this type of content. I think that’s especially useful because just yesterday I was on the phone with a client where we were trying to describe how this would work and it took a long time for them to get the picture and I think that makes a lot of sense because this is a client that’s been doing content marketing for many years. They’ve written many, many things. They’ve even had transactional content before and they were just having a really hard time understanding the practical difference between what they might put in an upgrade as opposed to what they might otherwise gate.

Lauren: Yeah, it’s a good question and I think a lot of firms would be pleased to discover that the types of tools that would be appropriate for an upgrade probably exist in their strategic arsenal already.

Chris: Right.

Lauren: For instance, we’ve been doing a lot of this on our own site recently and just as recently as week we had one of our content marketing coaches, Allie [Amaroso] publish an article about how and when to perform a content audit and audit of all the content on your website. And it’s a very thorough article about understanding what that is, what the correct process is, who from your team to pull in, what kinds of questions to ask of your content to know if it’s outdated and how to update it. It’s a very thorough article on our site. And then the upgrade is simply a content audit template. It’s a template you can use to organize your legacy content and actually perform an audit on the content on your websites. You can take all of the advice that Allie gives on what a content audit is and how to perform one properly, and then you can download this template and actually apply that thinking to your own content library.

Chris: Yeah, that’s a great example because basically someone who read that is thinking to themselves, man, this is a necessary thing to do. It sounds like a lot of work but great points and great help, but also, wow, this person saved me a ton of time because they gave me the template to use. Which is a really cool thing, but it also gets Allie’s purposes in place because Allie wants to see people take this step more often than they probably do.

Lauren: Exactly and I think for the marketer it’s a nice approach because it kind of turns the process of producing gated content on its head in a way. Because historically, the firms that I’ve worked with, when they’re assigned to gated content, they all kind of like take a deep breath and settle in because it’s going to be this really laborious process. And they spend all of this time investing all of this energy and creating a big asset that primarily lives behind a form and the only people who are going to see it are the ones who are compelled to submit that form. But with a content upgrade, what’s interesting is you still spend all of this effort and energy and producing really valuable insight. You just make it accessible to way more people because you don’t put the article itself behind a form and instead you put the kind of bite sized tactical content behind the form. So it takes a fraction of the time to produce this piece of gated content and tends to convert really well on that page.

Chris: Right.

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Chris: You know, it’s interesting, something you said a moment ago, I think. I want to make sure it gets repeated because I think it’s a really important takeaway for the listeners. Which is, you were talking about how often our clients almost don’t even see that they’ve already created this information. They’ve already, they already have this. It’s either embedded in the piece itself or they use it day to day and it’s so interesting that dynamic exists across all forms of consulting. You know, consultants are masters of creating tools to help their consultation sort of adhere or be applied in the client’s world, but what they tend to elevate in the content space are the ideas and what can be written. Which of course makes sense. That’s sort of what we’ve historically seen as strategically of value. But we do that at the detriment of realizing that there’s all these tactical tools we create to make our consultation work and we either don’t talk about them, or we give them away for free all the time, or we just forget that they exist. This is such a great application of that extra knowledge.

Chris: I mean, I know that firsthand because as we were going through all the stuff that I had written about website design, I realized that the best upgrades were things that I otherwise would have just given away in the post in previous versions. And so I just took those out of the post and made them the upgrade, which, you know, added to the experience and made it more progressive over time.

Lauren: Exactly. Yeah. And I think something else to think about here because a question I get a lot of the time and I think a natural follow up question to this is, what about the fact that I’m giving away these tools that I would otherwise use to complete the consulting work or the advising that I would do for paying clients? I understand that that’s a delicate balance and you don’t want to feel like you are just sort of opening up your secret sauce for people to access.

Chris: Right.

Lauren: But that being said, I think that there is a way to do this well because I know at least from our experience and from the firms that we’ve worked with, even when we give these tools to our clients, they still need our deep insight and coaching again and again and again to really apply them properly and to be able to get the full value out of them. And so I think there’s a way to share the structure or the framework to give a little bit more specific guidance in a way that comes off really generous as the marketer, but it’s not as if you releasing those materials is going to completely obviate the need for someone to hire you. We just don’t see that happening.

Chris: Yeah, I think that’s such an important point you’re making because it does seem scary. You know, if you’ve been used to charging and making your livelihood by way of selling knowledge and expertise, the idea of giving it away so that you can convince someone to pay for it seems backwards or at least seems risky, but you’re absolutely right. It’s been our experience and I think many of our clients that the deeper their knowledge runs, the more they can write about it and express it in a variety of ways. So the more comprehensive the documentation of that knowledge can be on their site in a public setting. And yet the more they take it in, the more they read that stuff, the more exposed they are to it, the more they tend to conclude that, oh my God, I need this person’s help. You know? I can maybe reverse engineer their expertise and do it on my own, but I don’t have time for that. I don’t even know if I have the skill to do that. But what has been demonstrated to me is that I need this person’s mind working for me.

Lauren: Exactly. What our clients who are taking this approach are finding is that people can use the structure that they provide through the upgrade to maybe get one more step further. In the content audit example, you know, maybe they use that tool to start to organize their content and look at it in a different way, but then they still come to a point where they are looking up for validation. Did I do this correctly? What’s the next step from here? And that’s where the expertise of a human on the other side of that conversation who can really weigh in and help draw more nuanced conclusions from the act of going through that exercise becomes the most valuable piece and that’s not something you can give away through a form submission.

Chris: Right. That’s so true. That’s a really encouraging point that you’re ending with and I guess one thing that occurs to me as a way to wrap this up is if someone’s listening right now and now it’s clicked, right? They get what you’re talking about, they realize that there’s probably a way forward for them to start working with this kind of content to start deepening the experience. What would be the next step for them? Like what would you recommend they do in terms of identifying what kinds of information would work as upgrades? The next practical step is what?

Lauren: I think you need to think creatively about the services and advice that you give to your clients and think about the tools that you and your team use to deliver on that advice. Because they exist, as you were saying earlier, we all create these systems and these tools to be the foundation of the advice that we then give on top of those things. So first, before any other step, just take a look at what exists inside of your organization that helps you deliver on the advice that you give every single day. And my guess with most of the firms that I work with, they start rattling off things in pretty short order.

Lauren: Oh, we’ve got a video that we use as a training model or oh, you know, we train our employees to think about how to deliver this service in this way. They use this 10 step guide. There are tools that you use every single day that you probably haven’t considered could be for public consumption. And so to just take a step back and think more creatively about that and start putting together a short list. In many cases, compiling that initial list is not going to be a challenge at all. And once you have that list in place, you can start to have a conversation internally about how you might evolve these things into assets that could be appropriate for a more public audience.

Chris: That’s great. You mentioned this earlier, you and your team are partway through a fairly long series focused on, I guess it’s kind of like the new rules of content marketing strategy that you all are putting together. And I was wondering if you would like to recommend a few of those things for the listeners to check out. I’ve got them in front of me, but also I know that you have been working deeply with the team to put this together. So what should people look at? What should be on their radar right now?

Lauren: Sure. We’ve got a lot of great stuff that’s been coming out. One article that’s seeming to be pretty popular and I get why because it’s kind of the most basic foundation of content marketing where everyone starts and that’s with how to write a blog article properly. Especially these days and how to do that in a way that it’s well framed for SEO because those rules evolve all the time. So our content marketing coach, Jeremy Wingle wrote a really thorough article about how to properly write a blog today and the upgrade for that piece is how to frame a headline so that it ranks organically and also engages people once they arrive to the site. So definitely check that out.

Lauren: We are publishing how to write a white paper. So if you are in that camp where you are pursuing that more kind of in depth approach to your gated content strategy, there’s a way to go about that to where it doesn’t have to be this big intimidating project. That was written by our content marketing writer, Tena Flanagan, and the upgrade there is going to be how to lay out your white paper. How to actually design it on the site. Those are two that I would definitely point to. What other ones do you have in front of you, Chris, that maybe you’d want to mention?

Chris: Well those are great. I’m really excited because there’s such a huge variety of things that you’re talking about there.

Chris: So the one that I would recommend that people take a look at that you wrote a couple of weeks ago was how the buying cycle will inform your content marketing strategy. And the reason why I think that’s relevant to talk about here and maybe conclude with is because we’ve been talking about as you point out, this sort of increasing complexity of the content type landscape. And what I really loved about this article is the upgrade. The upgrade that you put together is the top 10 content types. And so people who read this can download a free booklet that has basically a rundown of all the different types that you and your team are working with clients on. Some tips for those basic description of what they’re good for and how they work, which is I think are just a really useful tactical plan that gives somebody an overview of what they’re getting into, especially if they are just starting to get into content marketing today. So well done on that.

Lauren: Thank you. Yeah, I’m glad you elevated that one. I think that does give a nice introduction to those different content types and helps you start to evaluate what might be right for you given what your marketing objectives are and given where you are in your content marketing maturity as a firm.

Chris: That’s great. Well, this has been a really educational conversation. Thank you Lauren for all the insight.

Lauren: Absolutely Chris.

Chris: And we’ll check in again for you. Those of you listening, if you want to find us on Apple podcast, that would be really useful. Give us a rating and a review. We almost never ask for that. And I want to make sure that we do more often, because I know that sometimes when you ask, you get what you ask for. So find us, help us spread the word, and until next time, check us out on the site,

Lauren: Thanks so much.