Content Marketing · CST

How to Infuse Soul into Content Regardless of Channel by Tommy Walker (The Content Studio)

Bernard Huang

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Tommy Walker, founder of The Content Studio, joined the webinar to share How to Infuse Soul into Content Regardless of Channel.


Tommy shared his three axioms of content marketing:

1. A good premise will get you 80% of the way there

2. Content is a form of social currency

3. Decisions are made in Slack

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Watch the full webinar

Check out Tommy's slides here.

And check out the resources Tommy shared below:

About Tommy Walker:

Tommy is the founder of The Content Studio a content marketing consultancy for high-growth B2B SaaS startups and Fortune 1,000 enterprises. Prior to The Content Studio, Tommy was the Global Editor-in-chief at QuickBooks, the first marketing hire at Shopify Plus, and has since consulted with companies like GoDaddy, Twitch, and LinkedIn.


Follow Tommy on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tommyismyname/

Read the transcript

Tommy:

I host a show called The Cutting Room. And on The Cutting Room once a week we talk about the content marketing philosophy process and pregame before we edit an article live. I have guests from industry leading companies like Calendly, Vimeo, a number of others, Airtable. We ask this question every time, what is your content marketing philosophy? I would love to get some ideas from people in the chat just to see what their thought is on this as well. Start to think about this because it's super duper important to the rest of the conversation. I asked this on Twitter recently though, and the answer that I got was something to the effect of add value to your audience and create value or create nothing. Provide value without much catch, right? Focus on audience and create really good comprehensive articles that solve people's problems, right?

And don't be boring. Andy says in the chat here. This is a very good point. Now, the problem with this approach and the question that I have when it comes to this, and this is something I think about a lot and it's a very meta type conversation for me, is how do you create value? What does create value or be audience centric even mean? And how do you create value for both your reader, your viewer, or your listener and yourself at the same time? And how do you know when you've done this? Now, from what I've noticed, without having concrete and maybe even a codified philosophy, that these can easily follow phrases that sound good and maybe even make us feel good when we say them, but ultimately have very little meaning as we create in a vacuum or not really knowing how our work has been meaningful either to our audience or to the business.

Very, very easy, especially because things like attribution can be very difficult. The problem with this approach is that when we start to use tools like Clearscope, it means we have something that's really, really powerful that we treat not as well as we could. The right hand side of this becomes a checklist of key phrases that we need to check off and to reach a certain frequency without regard for how they might actually be included in the report or how that they match the search intent. And the word count becomes some arbitrary metric that we need to hit, where we often sacrifice the economy of our words for length because we feel like we have to do this to gain rank, right? John Mueller of Google has said word count is not a ranking factor. Save yourself the trouble.

And there is correlation between word count and organic traffic, but we have to remember that correlation is not causation in this case. And the final thing on this before I get off of this tangent, is that the average American adult reads nonfiction at a rate of 238 words per minute. In some cases we have openings that are two to 500 words that are just trying to ramp up and they don't really do what it is that we need to do. Now, this is not to say that this is the case when it comes to this particular article, but ultimately it becomes really easy to create soulless, hollow it out content when you're trying to take off the keyword boxes, create articles that are a certain length and have the right sub-headlines. This is not an example of that, by the way. I don't want to offend my friends over here at Clearscope, especially because you are hosting me.

But when you take it too far in the wrong direction, we become obsessed with praying to the Google Gods to decide to rank your article and lose sight of why someone might be searching for this thing in the first place. We also lose sight that search optimized content is a great front door for people, but it's not content. It's the content that has very little search value in the end that helps people make decisions. And if you think about this, if you've ever been part of a buying committee, you probably know for certain that it's not the search optimized content that got you to buy. It was something else that really sparked a little bit more of an emotion, a little bit more of a feeling that helped you gain that trust within the company that you are going with, right?

Actually, Bernard, Travis, you guys have been involved with some of the conversations that we've worked together and you know just how long that sales cycle can be because there are so many conversations happening in Slack and people have to make sure that they're trusting what it is that they're doing. And this might sound harsh, right? I realize this might sound harsh, but in my experience, the mentality runs rampant across content teams and across companies of all sizes and brand recognition. And quite honestly I think it's a misreading of what this tool can do and how powerful it can really be when it's incorporated into a much larger, more holistic content strategy. I ask the question again, what is your content marketing philosophy? Now for me, and this is just me, but I encourage you to think about this and ponder this a little bit more.

Mine revolves around three different axioms. The first one is that a good premise will get you 80% of the way there. The second one is content is a form of social currency. And the third one is decisions are made in Slack, right? Bernard I see you put the scared emoji in here. Hopefully you won't regret having me on here.The first one, let's talk about this. A good premise will get you 80% of the way there. Now this is time for a little bit of our audience participation because a good premise is going to be something that your reader, your listener, your viewer can latch onto. They understand what it is that you're all about and they can sum it up in just a few words. Here's a few premises, and I want to see from the audience what you think about this.

This is a true story of seven strangers pick to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. Audience, can you tell me what that is? I see you smiling over there, Travis. Real world. Perfect. A reality show. Real world. Real world. Exactly. Right? It's the real world, right? I'll give you another one. This is a little bit more recent. We follow the self-documented daily struggles of 10 individuals as they survive alone in the wilderness for as long as possible with a limited amount of survival equipment. What do you think folks? Alone, yes. Survivor's a good one too. But yes, alone, thank you. And then one last one, great. Can an expert cake artist make cake so lifelike that they're confused in the real world objects they represent?

Yes, I know. I am baiting everybody into aging themselves. Not sure about this one, but I'd watch it. It is, is a cake, right? Fantastic. What is it, Jeanine? Fantastic, Jeanine. Sorry, I don't have my glasses on. You can see with just these three, and I promise you, I am not as big of a reality television fan as it seems like here. These are just really solid premises. They do a really good job of giving us something that we can talk to when we recommend this to somebody. These are the types of things that we say, hey, have you seen this show? It was about this crazy tiger, this person, there's a murder mystery and there's tigers involved and it's nasty, crazy, right? Or have you seen this YouTube channel that's all about doing science to back up video games? What's going on in video games or movies?

You have all of these solid premises, which give people something to latch onto when it comes to the content that they're consuming. The question is, that I have, is how do you come up with a good premise? What is the premise of good ideas? I have to steal that line from Ryan Law over at Animalz. I did not come up with that, but it's the same principle. How do you come up with a good premise? This is actually something that with a client that I worked with, and I can't name names, but this was something that we did with the audience targeting model on doing some creative development for a podcast that they were working on. And when we try to better understand the ideal audience, we go through this targeting exercise where we identify three categories of audiences, core, adjacent and transformative.

And the core audience are the exact people you want. They're thinking, hey, this is for me. The adjacent audience is just outside of that. Maybe they haven't heard of you yet, but they definitely can get something out of it. And the transformative audiences are people who you wish to create or wish to reach sometime in the future. And when you grow your audience beyond, who is this going to be? Your primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. I'll give you two examples here. One is self-serving, one is not. I'll give you the not self-serving one first. In the podcast that we were developing together, we were looking at the aspirational entrepreneur first, right? They're looking for inspiration. This is the core audience, right? They're looking for inspiration. They want to hear what it's like for people who are just getting into this. They want work-life balance.

They're trying to get out of their job to push themselves into it. Maybe they haven't started a story yet if they were doing e-commerce, this is pre-commerce. They're looking for smart ways to hustle, not burnout. And they want permission to take risks. Not billionaires, just people who are looking for life lessons from other people who are already there. The adjacent folks, they're not necessarily entrepreneurs, but they're audience, they're business owners and they need to achieve something in their life where they need the hustle and they're looking for peer to peer advice. And then the transformational of audience, these are people who are not currently there yet, but they are looking for life lessons and inspiration to take a risk.

We all do this where I watch DIY YouTube channels every now and again. I'm never going to do the projects that they recommend and tell me audience, how many people are actually doing this? How many times do you watch HDTV or any building YouTube channel? Yeah, guilty. Right? Where you don't actually do the projects, but it makes you feel really good that you have, that you've watched this. Another example of this, and this is from my show, our primary audience that we're talking to are content marketers within large organizations, team leads, senior level, mid-career content marketers. Our secondary audience are people who are working with within startups and are looking to build that startup to a certain point. And our tertiary audience are freelancers who are looking to learn from the people that they're trying to write for.

And when I start to look at this, we break it down. How do we get to this place where we understand what this is? When I do the research on this, it's immersion research. If you really want to find out who these audiences are and where these gaps are in the market, you have to do a ton of research in this area. I worked at Shopify, I was the first marketing hire over there, Travis mentioned, and before we got started, as a company at the time, it's hard to believe that nobody took cloud e-commerce seriously, but that was the case. And as a company we did not have all of the features that other enterprise level businesses had. We did not have a number of these things because we were finding that it was bogging people down. When we were creating our content strategy, I literally read 200 different blogs.

I went to every single one of their webinars. I read every one of their case studies, I watched every one of their videos, I subscribed to every one of their newsletters. And I took handwritten notes on all of it, because I wanted to understand where the gaps were and what everybody was saying and what nobody was saying. And what we found when we did that was that when case studies were being written, they were very much company experts or company Y and CZ results. We saw that everybody was talking about features, but when we talked to our customers, we were finding that they were getting bogged down by features and they couldn't make decisions very agile, and it was costing a lot of their developer time and resources.

So when we started to shape the strategy and when we started to shape the soul of the publication we had, the overarching theme that we had was, what can you do when technology gets out of the way? And then on our very specific approaches, we said, case studies are going to be more like Rolling Stone interviews than companies X works of company Y and CZ results. And we're going to start talking about the things that are completely possible when you don't have to worry about your technology. And instead of our white papers and eBooks being things like talking about all the features we're capable of doing, we're going to do industry reports that say, here's the next five years of what's happening within your specific industry.

The sub context of that being we might not be able to compete on features, but we're competing on knowledge. And because we understand your industry so deeply, these are the things you'll be able to do once you switch over to a cloud e-commerce solution. That was first 1500 customers. We were small as a company at the time, so we could move very quickly because we had a small customer base to work off of. And we got to talk to people on a very regular basis because we were releasing a new case study every week. And we got to learn from our approach and always incorporate that stuff back into our content. We had this constant voice of the customer. If I were to go back in time to say, let's go back a few slides and talk about the premise, we talk about what a premise should include, we're looking at who is your main character?

Your premise should include a brief description of your protagonist. What's the solution or a situation or obstacle that they're in? The crisis that they find their situation in and what is their goal? A solid premise will also include the simple explanation of what your main character desires or needs. If we think about the three different shows that we were talking about before, their main character, seven strangers or survivalists or expert cake designers, the situation that they're in, they're picked to live in a house and have their lives taped. They survive alone in the wilderness with minimal equipment, or they want to create realistic cakes. And their goals are to see what happens when people stop being polite, start getting real, win $500,000 or fool people into thinking their cakes are real and they can win a cash prize.

This gives you something very, very concrete to grip onto, which then becomes the basis of the soul that you're trying to infuse in every single thing that's out there. We might all be familiar with something, or if you're not familiar with this, there's a Jobs-to-be-Done framework. And what we have to think about when it comes to the Jobs-to-be-Done is, what is somebody hiring your content to do? We talk about search intents all the time, but the question is, what are we hiring our content to do? What is somebody else hiring your content to do? And here's a framework for you to think of, is what your premise should include, right? For your reader, maybe your primary, secondary or tertiary audience. This piece of content will grant them the power of, what? Whereas today they have to do this bad or boring thing after listening to what we're doing or after watching our stuff, what are they going to be able to do that's good or interesting?

Again, I'll give you a selfish example. For industry leading content marketers within large organizations, our show, The Cutting Room will grant them the power of seeing how other editors do their job. Whereas today, they have to live in isolation and not have anybody that they can bounce ideas off of. Afterwards they can see how their peers work and get an idea of maybe they can incorporate some of that into their own process. This is all stuff that's very opaque in the content marketing world. This is why we have it. And if you want to check out more of the Jobs-to-be-Done framework, you can go here, bitly.ly/jobstbd. And before you go all in on this stuff, it's very easy to get carried away saying, hey, let's do a podcast. Hey, let's start a YouTube channel. Hey, let's do any of this. You got to validate with outreach.

You have to talk to every single person or maybe 10, 20, 30 people within your particular core audience and just say, hey, I'll give you a $5 Starbucks gift card. I just want to bounce an idea off of you because I think that this is the case. Now, in a lot of startups world, this is product validation, right? I'm sure you two have done this a lot. When you start talking to people, hey, what is it that you're looking for out of these types of tools? Same idea with content. We're still hiring this content to do a job. And once we have this feedback, we can start to develop the premise based on the problems that people are actually having and the ideas that they're throwing out there. And people will get excited about this. Your premise is solid. They'll get excited about what that premise is, and you can start to take their voices and their feedback and put it into the content that they're creating.

Travis, you are actually part of my focus group, and this was something I'm trying to practice what I preach here, because we all say, talk to your audience, talk to your audience, talk to your audience. But honestly guys, damn it, none of us do it. Right? Let's be real. We get too busy caught up in the cycle of creation that we forget to actually connect with real people. That's that. Anybody have any questions on that? Drop it in the chat and happy to answer as we go along here. The second axiom of my content marketing philosophy is content is a form of social currency. And what I mean by this, we have this idea of you are what you wear, the types of clothes that you wear, present some version of who you are and who you want to be perceived in the world. The types of foods that you eat, the types of workouts that you do, all of these things that we identify with and we tell people about, these tells them something about who we are as a person.

Content is the same exact thing. Who we share or what we share and who we share it with is so important and it speaks to our tastes, our values, what we believe in. And if we start to think about how our audience, I hate to use this word, but how our audience is going to perceive or how they're going to look when they share our stuff with other people, it really starts to think about your stuff as social currency. We have to think about it this way, otherwise it's not going to be shared. It's going to be falling on deaf ears. And this is where writing for algorithms versus writing for people becomes really important because you have to be able to resonate so much to the point where somebody can take your piece as part of their identity. And I can think of a number of different movies or books or any of those types of pieces of content that have shaped my thoughts and my opinions and have really genuinely become a part of who I am.

And you see these concepts, you might think like, I can't do that with content for B2B SaaS in specifically, that's where my career lies. But if you start to think about how many people here have heard of the skyscraper technique or have incorporated audience, I can't think of any other frameworks right now, but there are certain frameworks that people in the marketing space have come up with and we just adopt these. They become a part of our process and we've shared them with people and it's because they are well thought out premises that we are comfortable saying, yes, this is a part of who I am or how I start to work. Right? Now, there was research that was done by the New York Times several years ago and recently remixed by Foundation Inc. So Ross Simmonds company, if everybody would check that out.

And this was done back in 2013 I believe, where they asked their readers, why is it that you share content? And it was broken down into these five things. To bring valuable and entertaining content to others. To define ourselves to others. To grow and nourish our relationships. Self fulfillment, and to get the word out about causes or brands. When I start to break this down a little bit more, you can see here, bring valuable entertaining content to others I share to enrich the lives of those around me. And this goes everywhere from sharing within my team to problems that we might be able to solve or hey, we have this, how do I work better with the sales team? Hey, here's this article guys. You guys should check this out. Or how's this meme? Or what's this music?

We share things because they sign post who we are and our taste. I share to enrich the lives around me. And when they start to break this down a little bit further, they found that 94% of people carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient. You're not going to share stuff with your coworkers that's going to make you look dumb or make it look like you have a bad sense of humor or any of that. That's something to consider. The other thing is, is they found that 49% of people say that sharing allows them to inform others of the products that they care about or potentially change the opinions of other people to encourage actions. So having been a part of multiple buying committees myself, I might share things that go, hey, this is why this company is better than this other company.

Feature parity. It might be the same types of features, but they really seem to get it and this other company really doesn't seem to get it. So something to consider there. One of the other reasons why people share to define ourselves to others, you can see here I try to share only information that will reinforce the image I'd like to present. This is exactly what I was saying before. I want to be considered thoughtful, reasons, kind, interested and passionate about certain things. What I'm sharing shows that, right? And you can see 68% of people said that they share to give a better sense of who they are and what they care about. To go grow relationships. This is another good one. Look down here at the bottom and you can see that 73% of people share because it helps them connect with others who share these interests. We're all here for a reason. And 78% of people say they share online because it lets them stay connected with the people they might not otherwise stay in touch with.

This is a little bit different because we're thinking that particular stat. We're thinking a little bit more broadly. The context that I care about is more about what we share in private untrackable channels, which I'll talk about in just a minute here, right? 73% of people share because it helps them connect with others who share their similar interests. Finally, not finally, but self fulfillment is another one. I enjoy getting comments that I send great information. Here's another thing where I'm going to share stuff that makes me feel good in that I can generate discussion around this stuff, because if I'm considering this piece of content, piece of my identity, when I spark conversation I get to be the center of attention for a little bit. So how can you share stuff that gets you to be the center of attention and maybe bring some stuff to new light?

You see this with industry reports all the time. You see this with a number of frameworks and things like that where people discuss it and you might as well have been the person to create it because you're the one who shared it in the first place. 69% of people share because it makes them feel more involved. Get the word out about how causes or brands. This is more from a philanthropic standpoint. If it's a way to support causes or issues that you care about, you forward that along and you share that because it's something that you really believe in. And the reason why this is important, and this is sort of like a sub axiom for me, is that you want to get people sharing your stuff, especially in private channels. Because if you don't get returned visitors, especially in something like B2B SaaS software, if you don't get returned visitors, you're never going to end up in the consideration set.

How is anybody possibly going to consider your company versus others if they're not coming back to you time and time again? I'll give you an example of this. When I was at QuickBooks, we had actually done a research study that we found when somebody were to double their rates, and this is intuitive when you think about it. When someone was doubling their pages per session visited and doubling the amount of pages that they were visiting over a 90 day period, their time to sale got cut in half. The question we then had was, how do we get more people going to these pages? They're consuming more and because they're consuming more, they get more comfortable with the product, the brand, and then they're more willing to buy. It's really intuitive when you think about it.

And then the third one is decisions are made in private Slack channels and in other private channels. I'm going to just stop sharing my screen for a second here because this is one that we can really talk about, is conversations that are happening now, right? You're sharing this stuff inside internal channels, you're making these decisions, you're having these conversations. As marketers these are not conversations that we can track, but this is where all the discussion is happening, about our buying decisions. And if we don't have this in tune response to the, if we don't know what these people are talking about, if we don't have this feedback and if we aren't talking about this stuff with solid premises, these discussions aren't going to be had, especially around your products, your services.

I think that's really important. I'd actually, Travis Bernard, how many tools in your tool stack over at Clearscope have you talked about face to face in-person and in an office? Your mic's muted, Bernard.

Bernard:

I unmuted. When you say face to face in an office, you mean when we're just discussing which tools that we're using or selling Clearscope or a combination of both? What do you mean?

Tommy:

I mean more along the tools that are in your personal stack, not Clearscope, but the ones that you have bought from other people. Are you having those conversations and sharing that information more in Slack or are you doing that more face to face?

Bernard:

This is something I've, I guess gone on a rant about in the past, but I call it backchannel marketing. Say, people don't really just read TechCrunch or Wired or whatever anymore. What you get recommended is a text message from a friend or a private DM in a Slack community. I get most of my recommendations through a catch up call that we might be having. Obviously face to face became less of a thing because of COVID, and now it seems like default Zoom is the new face to face. That's where I'll get a lot of my recommendations and interest in buying stuff. Travis, anything to add?

Travis:

No, I completely agree. I was actually talking to someone this morning on Discord about a private community around Apple shortcuts. I definitely agree with that.

Tommy:

And I think that's important to remember because when we focus only myopically on how do I get this thing ranked or how am I going to get traffic, traffic becomes this like, we forget that there are real people behind these numbers. If you would've visualized, and I know that some people are going like, we only got 1,000 visitors this month. If you were to put 1,000 people in a room, that's huge. Think about how big that is and how many people who are even there in the first place. Now the question is, what are they doing after they visited your stuff? We sleep on return visitors as a metric and we sleep on direct as a metric. And that's primarily because some of it we can't track. But you want people typing in your stuff in the URL, right? You want that.

Because then you know that you're getting a little bit more recognition and these are the people who are most likely going to be sharing your stuff with people that are going to have a much higher opinion or they're going to give it a lot more credibility than even just your broader social networks. When I talk about sharing and decisions are made in Slack, and when I think about all of this stuff, I'm really thinking about what are those one-on-one conversations that are going to be had with people and the recommendations on how that comes about. And when I think about search, because I know that we're a search focused tool here, when I think about search, it's like how do I get people in the door and then bring them further down into the page or bring them further into my experience, so we can get them on the hook for the stuff that we're trying to do and the message that we're trying to communicate.

That's me. That's all I have to say on this. We have a few more minutes here for some Q&A or Bernard, Travis, if you want to talk about this a little bit more, let's go.

Travis:

I like that. I think what you're stating is that SEO, organic search is just a channel, so you can still satisfy that, but the main portion of the article, I think the goal, convert guys call it like an originality nugget where you are positioning yourselves in a unique manner where you stand out from the individuals on the SAPs, but you're also interested and engaged and pull that person down. I do have one question. You mentioned it back in the case studies piece, but can you dig a little deeper into, you said that right case study is like a Rolling Stones interview, it really stuck out to me.

Tommy:

What we found in the research was that everybody was taking this company experts or Company Y and CZ results. And we can assume that if you're seeing a case study on a website that all of it's going to be biased towards positive. And that's confirmation that we need and there is a place for that. But what we were doing in these interviews, and I had a journalist on my team, he had won an Emmy before, so it was like this really solid interview process, as we were trying to understand the history behind these companies, their background, who were the people who were running it, and what were the things that led to the problem that got them thinking about the solution. I'll give you an example. If you were to look at this company X workshop, company Y and CZ results situation, the problem would be that the company's server room caught on fire.

The solution was we moved to cloud e-commerce. The result at the end there was that they've seen traffic increase by however much and their revenue went up by however much. Cool. The Rolling Stone approach allowed us to find out that the guy had his server room catch on fire and he got the call from his IT person at three o'clock in the morning while he was at his bachelor party. Let that sink in for a second, the frame of mind that somebody might be in at three o'clock in the morning on the night of their bachelor party. This gave the gravity of what we were talking about and this problem solution result situation, it gave a lot more gravity and it was a lot more relatable to our audience than it was if we just said, here's the problem and here's how it was resolved and this is what happened.

We ended up having situations too where people, we found that some people were doing their things for altruistic reasons. They had visited an indigenous country, saw that there was a lot of poverty happening, but they had great art. So they wanted to bring that art or that style back to the states and start selling that. So there was this fair trade type situation that they were doing. Some people started their business as an FU to the people who told them that they couldn't be anything when they grew up. There were so many other things that came from these conversations that we could then use this real human moments to work into the content that we were creating. And the reason for that was that we knew who it was we were talking to because we talked to them on a regular basis and we understood their language.

That gave us a way to package. Because that's really what this is all about, is how do you package this message in a way that's going to stick out in somebody's head. The premise, right? To bring it back to the axioms, the premise was Rolling Stone style interviews for case studies. The people that we wanted to have them share with were other people within their network who were also e-commerce people, because they were telling a very personal story. And the reasons that they were sharing was because it shared their own personal experience in a way that they had never brought out of them before. I'll give you one more example. There was a company called Death Wish Coffee, and they were part of this promotion where QuickBooks had had this small business, big game promotion where they would pay for a small business to have a commercial on the Super Bowl.

They ended up using our case study as their narrative for winning this competition. Because we told the story in a very interesting way. And if we had just done, hey, they worked with us and they had some excellent results in all of this, there was nothing to connect with there. That's because we did the research early and tried to find a really solid premise for how we were going to do this particular format of content.

Travis:

That's awesome. And then going to the last premise or axiom of sharing on Slack, are you wanting that to happen organically or are you actually asking readers when they finish to read an article to share it on these different channels?

Tommy:

I trust. I'm not asking exclusively. I don't ask explicitly, and maybe this is a downfall for me as a marketer, maybe I could do it, but I'm just going to trust my reader that if they want to share this thing they're going to, and I don't think that there's any real need to prompt anybody. We get really caught up in putting the flashy button out there and all of that and it's like, is that really even necessary? If you really want to share something, you're going to take the time to copy and paste it from the URL and put it into wherever it is that you're going to do. When was the last time you pressed a button to share a piece of content anyways?

Travis:

It was very good. Yeah, I agree with that. I thought that's how you would answer it. Just want to confirm.

Tommy:

That was Bateman. Cool. Well, I'd love to hear from the audience here. We've got quite a few people in the room right now and I'm dropping some stuff on you.

Bernard:

You are definitely consistently dropping some stuff. Travis and I were actually talking with the Animalz crew, I don't know, last week. And more or less what we were discussing on the call was a lot of the same ideas that you've been talking about on this call, right? Something that was brought up is like, wow, you know that you have a great piece of content when you want to take it and text it over to your buddy here and there. And that indicates they found it so interesting that they couldn't not share it with the relevant people in their business or professional or personal lives. I guess my question here is, how much of SEO content do you expect to be infused with that thoughtfulness Rolling Stones type interview versus just creating thought leadership brand awareness content and recognizing that that has a lot more potential to have soul infused with it, but not necessarily as much like SEO consideration?

Because I could see how there's this push and pull dynamic where somebody saying like, oh yeah, when I'm creating a piece of content on, what is A/B testing? It's hard, it's so dry. I don't know how to infuse it with soul. But when I'm talking about why A/B testing is the future of marketing or whatever, then that's another sort of thing. How do you balance that? And then also how do you, I guess, push your writers more towards producing content that's filled with insight and inspiration in a world where the majority of writers are being conditioned to push out cookie cutter, blah blah, blah at volume? I think that that's something just really interesting on my mind.

Tommy:

No, this is a great question. If I'm going to reframe that just a little bit. One's like what's the ratio of SEO optimized content versus thought leadership content? And then the second part of that would be exactly what you said, is how are you pushing people to do that? I think Peplia talks about this a lot now and you're starting to hear a lot more chatter about this. John Benetti does a really good job of this too, where he says keywords don't give you the angle and something just to use your example, because I've written this piece, what is A/B testing? You can go about it saying A/B testing is X, Y, Z things, this is why you need A/B testing. These are the results for A/B testing, so forth and so on. Very cookie cutter approach.

You could do that. You could use the tool at Clearscope to say, here are all the subheaders that everybody else is using to give an idea of how we should structure this piece and all that. But the question you have to ask is, not just what is A/B testing? But especially if you're in something like a consulting service for conversion optimization, which would be a logical version of that, is not just what is A/B testing? But is what is A/B testing to you? What does A/B testing mean for your company specifically? What are the results that you brought? What is your ideology behind this? Because we all have our thoughts. A/B testing to you might be something completely different than A/B testing to me, and I might have some really strong opinions on why you might be wrong or why you might be right on this stuff.

When we're talking about soul, we have to be willing to put that out there. We have to be willing to attract the right audience and push the wrong ones away. PEP and conversion Excel is a really great example of this where they have really, it was always really strong opinions and you might not want somebody to talk to you that way. And that's fine because they don't want you as a customer, doesn't mean they're not going to rank in search. If we think about what Google has for information on us. Take that a step back. What I'm saying is that it doesn't have to be exclusive, it doesn't have to be either or. If we think about the information that Google has on us, we can see stuff like scroll depth, how fast people bounce back off of a page. They can see engagement metrics.

Even if we don't see it, they can see dwell depth and where your cursor is and all of this other stuff. They have indications as to whether or not this piece of content is engaging. And the way that you're going to engage people is not by putting out the cookie cutter content, it's by saying, here's what this means to us. Here's what our approach is to this. How do you push writers to do this? You find the right people. It takes a lot of effort to find the right people who are willing to push those boundaries. And as a content leader, you also have to be willing to fight those battles internally, right? Because that's probably one of the bigger hurdles, is saying, no, we have to take a stance on this because if you look at all these results, all these results are going to be pretty much same, same.

If we take a stance on this though, we might hit all the same notes that these other ones are doing, but we are going to stand out because we have a perspective. We are willing to take a stance on this stuff and nobody else is willing to because it's very cookie cutter and very dry. And a lot of that comes down to the hiring process of the freelancers that you work with. I've worked with some really excellent freelancers in my career with credentials I don't want to get into right now because I don't want to be showing off, but good credentials. And that's finding the right people and being willing to have those conversations as a content leader saying, this is what we're trying to do. And then let's see here. Solomon says, hi, do you know anything about creating content with this idea of maturing clusters? Let's say you want to create content about gifts for moms. You would look at it like a cluster and then build content to mature it.

I think content clusters are a great concept. And in this particular instance I might say something to the effect of gifts for moms as a whole and then start to cluster it out like, gifts for this type of mom, technology gifts for mom, fashion gifts for mom, restaurant gifts for mom, and start to cluster that. If I'm thinking about that as a cluster and taking a perspective, I might also want to give a small review of these places. I don't want to just put stuff out there for the sake of putting it out there and hitting a word count. I want to actually refer to things that I have an opinion on or my friends have an opinion on talking to other people about these real life recommendations. And I've seen this before, having to buy gifts for pre-teens, starting to do these search more and more often because it's like, what are you even into?

And it's like when you start to think about the cluster it's now, what are the different types of people that you would want to look at to buy a gift for? What are my thoughts about AI generated content? Bernard you're putting in stuff in the chat. You can just say it right here. AI content, I take most of my cues now from Ryan Law on this because it's still an emerging space and he's got a lot of really interesting thoughts. But from my experience with AI content right now, it's really solid for coming up with ideas and permutations of things that we normally can't do as humans. A really great example that he uses, and I've done this myself now is, you get the idea of come up with 20 different headlines for an article. And generally what happens when we are limited human brains start trying to do this is we have several permutations of the same idea.

AI's really good now at, they don't give you the premise, but they give you different ways to frame this particular idea. And you can start to pick things that sound a little bit more reasonable for the idea that you're trying to communicate. But you have to communicate the premise to the AI. You have to have a really strong premise to the AI for it to know what to look for. Because if you're just saying how to do X, Y, Z thing, then it's only going to give you permutations of how to do X, Y, Z things instead of saying, these are the inputs that we have. Again, AI is only as good as the inputs you give it.

Travis:

We have a question from anonymous. How do you hire writers who can take that kind of a stance and not write cookie cutter content? What questions do you ask? What is a screen process? Do you pick a framework you have already written about?

Tommy:

It's completely unscalable for me. Totally unscalable. You'll notice in the stuff that I'm talking about here, it's all unscalable. I've created something I call the content code. And for me, every client I work with I create a content code. And that is basically a distillation of 10 different rules for engaging with the audience. And this is not necessarily something of articles need to be 1,850 words and put an image in every few paragraphs. It's not that. It's more like in one of the codes I've created is opinions are BS, do the research. We are here to win the hearts and minds of our audience. There are so many different opinions that are being thrown out there and an opinion has a way of infecting an audience and telling people what is right or what is wrong, and it's really subjective to the research to back this stuff up. That's the basic principle of it.

And I can actually give that to you guys for the send out, because it's really important to the overall idea. Having that first shapes the ad that I'm trying to create for the author, and this is very mission driven, the ad I'm trying to create. Because as a content creator I also have to think about what I'm signposting to the people that I work with. And it's very mission driven. So something I did for Shopify, it was something along the lines of we're trying to disrupt the world of eCommerce. I'll make sure it goes out. We're disrupting the world of eCommerce, these are the reasons that we're doing it, here are the problems that we see. Join us on our mission. Right? First time I did this, I did it on the ProBlogger job board, which was absolutely incredible.

And what we found, I had 145 different submissions happen within the first 24 hours. And in that ad I told everybody, give me three of your most representative articles of just the things you feel like are the best. I automatically dequed everybody who said, here's a link to my portfolio. Now I don't want 50 articles, I want three that you feel are the most representative of your work. So those people are dequed. Then I read through and I find a handful there. I'm like, here's the short list. And then, and this is where it starts to get really important for me as to whether or not the relationship's going to work out. I did a full edit on every single person on my short list of maybe 10 to 15 people, deep, full edit because I want to know how they're going to respond to my editorial feedback in my editorial stat.

This is really important because if they come back and their ego is bruised from the way that I give feedback and how I would communicate what I'm trying to do based on the premise of the article and everything else, then it's just not going to work. They could be the best author in the world, but if it turns out that they weren't able to take that feedback, they're out. And if they were able to take the feedback and the response in the email came back afterwards where it was like, this was really great feedback, then I'd say, okay, now let's get on a conversation. Let's get on a call. The screening process for me is more about what have you already done? Can I find potential in that work that you're doing? And then can I give you feedback in a way that's very much focused on the work that has zero risk for you because this thing is already published?

And then are we going to vibe when we get on a call together? We don't vibe. We've gotten people to the very end of the process, and if we didn't vibe, then thank you very much and I'll refer you to other people because I know plenty of other editors who you might be a really good fit for, but it's just not our thing.

Travis:

Awesome.

Tommy:

And take that just a step further, I've actually worked with people who I rejected as an author, but I thought would make a really good deputy editor. There's this one person that comes to mind in particular, his name was Daniel. And he kept following up even after I told him no. And I had a position that opened up and I was like, you know what, I do want to have you on my team, because I enjoy your passion and I think that you have some potential in this other area, so how can we still work together? It's all about relationship building in that case.

Travis:

Super cool. Well Tommy, appreciate your time. I think you did a great job articulating what it takes to create unique and useful content. Before we give everybody their time back, do you have anything you wanted to share?

Tommy:

Anything I wanted to share? Well, if you would like to, I'm going to share my screen actually. I would encourage everybody here to start thinking about what their content marketing philosophy is. And if you want to check out my show, The Cutting Room, all you have to do is go Bitly, right? So bitly The Cutting Room, hyphens in between. Go check that out. We have some really excellent guests and we're only continuing the experience, improving the experience as we go along.


Written by
Bernard Huang
Co-founder of Clearscope

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