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Robert Rose on Content Marketing

In this episode...

Today, my guest is a legitimate expert on Content Marketing who has worked with some of the world’s most recognizable brands. He agreed to sit down with me and discuss content marketing related to small businesses’ realities and challenges.

Robert Rose is an executive at the Content Marketing Institute and an author of three books on Content marketing.

On top of one of the most inspirational stories about a small business succeeding with content marketing, we’ll discuss how to make the process sustainable and less stressful for everyone.

Cale Guin: I’ll just explain real quick what I know about content marketing which isn’t much. As I mentioned, I come from a long time ago. Before there was even a Google, to be honest with you, I was marketing. When Google came about it changed a lot of things but in 2011 to say 2015 or so, they really changed the game. That seems to me to be that era when content marketing started because it had to if you wanted to keep up with search engine rankings and stuff like that. Is that accurate or what is the history of content marketing?

Robert Rose: I think it’s a process that’s been around for hundreds of years. Where pre-digital, let’s call it that, you have brands who created content usually in the form of a magazine because we were talking then print, radio or TV being the only mediums available and print was really the most affordable medium for most companies. They would create a company magazine or we’re all familiar with the classic airline magazine where you have an airline funding a magazine that had articles about travel to extensively make their customers feel better about traveling.

That’s the general birth of it, if you will, is the idea that these businesses could create content that is outside their product and service and create value for their customers that made them feel better about doing business with a particular organization. I think to your point, I would argue that it was actually search and we can call Google or you can call it AltaVista or Yahoo or Ask Jeeves or whichever your favorite birth of the search engine was that really fundamentally changed the equation because for so many of us who come from a classic marketing education background our goal in the print, radio, billboard, and television world was to chase audiences where they were aggregating.

They were watching TV, they were listening to radio, they were reading magazines. If we wanted to get them aware of our business, well, we would put our content there and sometimes we would call it an ad and sometimes we would call it an advertorial if we wrote an article or if we were lucky enough to get our PR firm to get us covered in one of those magazines, we called it PR.

What search changed the game was it made content a two-way street. In other words, I no longer needed to watch a network for three hours to get to the show that I wanted. I no longer needed to thumb through an entire magazine to get to the article that I wanted. What I could do is I could go search for a particular topic and get content on my own terms. The opportunity that that started to provide for brands was we no longer needed to chase those audiences. We could become the media that they were looking for, the article that they were looking for, the research they were looking for, the help, the inspiration, or the entertainment that they were looking for.

That really changed the game and to your excellent point, I think it probably took us about 10 years to really catch up with that idea. It wasn’t really until call it 2010, 2011, 2012 coming out of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, that we really started to realize that all these distribution methods through social media and through search and through our websites and through blogs could really create value for the business by becoming the media. By becoming as I like to call it an interesting thing for our customers to look at. More than just our brand it became, we could become interesting.

Cale Guin: This is the problem with trying to contain you and I having this conversation to half an hour because in your response there are probably about 300 points that I would like to expand on. Let me just say that as a person who was very into digital marketing, actually since 2002 I had a digital marketing firm. What had happened was Google really changed the game and to your point that 2011 era. It was right after the Recession. They changed the game in saying that we are going to rank websites based on the amount and the quality and the contextual nature of their content and a buzz was going to be a thing. How many links are there coming back to you?

All of these things culminated into this thing which for a while was the scourge of the internet where people were just creating crap, just to create crap and to create backlinks and all these things. What you see now though, is this genuine, amazing quality of content, and the way it’s transforming some of these businesses, I think is certainly worth noting, but I think that you can’t ignore content marketing.

One other point that you made that I’m this advocate against, using all the wrong terms, and we do it all the time. Our industry uses marketing for everything. We say it’s content marketing, it’s social marketing, and it’s all these things and you made the great point of we now have these distribution channels. That’s what they really are. They’re the TV and the radio of today. They’re these great tools that we have; channels to present our message. Can you talk to me a little bit about the creation of content and what we do with it, and hopefully, that ties back into these channels that we have now?

Robert Rose: Yes, I think the fundamental change was the democratization of information retrieval. That’s what Google brought us. The good and the bad of it was that when we were buying ads in newspapers, and we were buying ads in magazines, and on the radio, part of the reason was because we wanted to get in front of their audience. The other reason was because we wanted to be part of their brand.

In other words, I would pay a premium to be in the New York Times, or The Wall Street Journal, or the LA Times, or whatever local newspaper I had because if it appeared there, people could trust it. It’s because it had created this sense of authority, that this is where you got information that was important. When I put an ad in my local newspaper and people saw that ad, I would get to draft a little bit with the newspaper’s brand. What Google did, for better and worse, is democratize the distribution of that information and education. Now, as a small business, I can be just as informative, just as helpful, just as valuable to an information searcher as the New York Times.

Now, you may trust the New York Times a little more than you trust me. Ultimately, here we are in 2021, and the trust in mainstream media is at an all-time low, and trust in business is quite frankly, much higher, you may end up trusting me a lot more than the New York Times. The opportunity in the way that it provides me as a business owner to create interesting trusted things is there’s nothing standing in my way. Not only is there nothing standing in my way between that relationship between me and a customer, but it’s probably opportunistic because, quite frankly, I’m probably more trusted than a lot of the places where I would put an ad, and it’s less expensive.

Cale Guin: Right. Okay. To that point,two things, when you say that you’re likely more trusted, right off the bat you might be more trusted because of trusting so low elsewhere.

Robert Rose: Right, exactly. It’s a low bar these days, no doubt about it.

Cale Guin: You make a great point. I try to preach all the time, authenticity, authenticity, authenticity. When your brand doesn’t match the experience people have when they do business with you, that’s where a lot of trouble starts. That’s where bad reviews start. That’s where this lack of trust begins. Talk to me about how you put content together, and how does everybody dream up enough content to keep this ball rolling and this thing going. How can I think of all the content I need in order to really move the needle?

Then let’s talk about quality in that sense, in the sense of how real it is, how helpful. I think that’s one of the things I read about you that I really connected with was being useful to your customer. I always say the more helpful you are, the better and you can’t create bad content if you’re just trying to be helpful to your customer.

Robert Rose: That’s right, and what it is, is you’re as I like to call it, you’re teaching your customers either how to be customers or how to be better customers. By doing that, you’re either optimizing more customers coming to you because you’re differentiating by being helpful to teach them why they should use this widget or why your service is valuable or how they can really take advantage of this kind of product or service.

Then in the flip side, you’re teaching your customers how to be better customers, you’re giving them how to use your product better, how to do other things with it to actually utilize it to its full potential, and you’re actually teaching them to be loyal and to be up-sold, and to be cross-sold. I’ll give you a perfect example of this is, we did a little bit of work with a guy, small business, he’s a general contractor, and his whole job is basically run around and do home improvements and he’s got a little company that does all of that.

What he did was he would simply go around to all of his job sites and instead of emailing his clients a report like, well, today we put in a wall and today we built in the skylights, he would take a video of himself, and he’d make a little show out of it. He would be like one of those little home shows, and he would say, “Hi, welcome to Wednesday. We’re here, and this is what we’ve done,” and he took a video of this thing, and he’d be like, “By the way, if we were to put in a skylight here, it would be really awesome and blah, blah, blah,” and he would give them the little home show tour of his progress that his crew made on that particular day.

Then he started chopping those things up and using them as videos on his little– he created a blog. He was not only repurposing it for a very functional thing, which was basically instead of writing a report every day that he would send his clients, he would basically just pull out his iPhone and make a video, but then he was also using it for marketing because what he was showing was, he was teaching them, “Hey, if you sign up with me as a general contractor, you’re going to get all this amazing experience for teaching you how I’m building your house.”

Cale Guin: That is so fantastic. Can I just ask, who came up with that idea? You said you were with him; he came up with that?

Robert Rose: He did, yes, and the reason he came up with it was not because he was told to or he thought it would be some smart marketing thing. He actually was like, “I don’t feel like writing a big email. It’s much easier for me to just walk around with my iPhone and show you rather than write up a big report.”

Cale Guin: That is brilliant on so many levels because that speaks a little bit to how small business people who are least wearing multiple hats, if not running the show and they may or may not be marketers, and what have you.

Robert Rose: Oh, yes, most small business owners the last thing they want to do is marketing. Every small business owner I’ve ever known, marketing for them was the thing they do with a beer, or a glass of wine after they’ve been running their business all day and it’s the last thing they want to be doing at 7:00 at night.

Cale Guin: Okay, he puts it out on his blog and that’s it. At least in his local area, I’m sure it does well. He can say, “Hey, just go to my website, you can see the work I’m doing.” I get that but for people who need to move the needle on a larger scale, or maybe not necessarily just in their hometown, where should this content live, and let’s talk about the realities of distribution. There’s a billion channels out there right now, and that is a kale of exaggeration if you will, but there’s a lot and not every channel, and this is something I argue with people all the time, not every channel is going to work for every business.

Robert Rose: No, and nor do you need to be on every channel.

Cale Guin: Right and it does largely matter where your audience is, but it also matters what kind of content you have.

Robert Rose: Here’s what I’ll say to that, yes and no. At the top of the show, we talked about this idea of the fundamental shift that digital brought, whether it’s 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or sometime in between. One other thing that it really changed was the fundamental nature of whether we should be chasing audiences to different channels. What I mean by that is when all of your audiences can choose between local print, local TV, local radio, or local billboards, it’s really easy to chase your audiences, but when your local audience can be on Facebook, Tik-Tok, Twitter clubhouse, Instagram, Pinterest, Google search, landing pages, webinars, all of those things, you simply can’t chase them.

The opportunity then is to start attracting them. Start attracting them to one thing that you can be excellent at. Maybe it’s a blog. Maybe it’s your website, and it’s a resource center. Maybe you build an online video class. Maybe you build a printed book. Maybe you put out a printed magazine. Finding the right channel for you to deliver the helpful, entertaining, inspirational content that you want to create is the key, then using that platform, and promoting it. What I mean by that is, treat your content platform just like this contractor did with his videos, like you would a product.

In other words, it’s another product in your portfolio that you’re building value for customers with. Ultimately, you’re going to promote it like you would any other product. That’s where you use Facebook or Twitter or TikTok or whatever, is to start promoting those audiences that are gathering in all those different places to come and engage with you on your terms, in your house, on your platform. When they subscribe or they’re starting to talk with you, you’re actually having a much better sense of control of the conversation.

What that is for anybody, it’s really so different. These days, it could be an email program. It could be a blog. It could be your website. It could be a print magazine. It can be so many different things. Just like my friend, the contractor who chose video, and ultimately YouTube to put it on, you choose, you make the decision about where you think would be the best place for your customers to experience it.

Cale Guin: If you’re not creating content on your own, and you don’t have time to sit around and look for interesting things, let’s talk about the economics of content marketing. Let’s talk about it. Some of the things that I did catch of yours were fantastic in the sense that it showed a cost comparison if you did this versus if you did this. Then also the measuring stick for I’m spending this money, I’m doing these things, I can see that there are people watching it, but where does it really come down to? Viewers likes and all of those things, don’t pay the bills. How do you equate directly, this is the content I put out there and then this is what I ended up getting out of it?

Robert Rose: It’s something that marketers have always sucked at, just to be clear, is putting some scientific algorithm behind, do this, get that. Marketing has always and will always be as much art as it is science. When you put effort into it, the economics for me, and for most marketers that I see that are successful, has to be it goes down to the fundamental idea of marketing, which is, how do I reach the right person and the right people in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of effort that will do something in my favor? It might be visit my website, it might be fill out a form and subscribe to my email newsletter, or it might be buy my widget.

All of those things are good things and all of them fit into an overall marketing strategy. For most small businesses, quite frankly, that line is pretty short. In other words, there’s not a lot of, unless you’re in a really small business that has a really long sales cycle and you’re selling big generators or something where there’s a big committee involved, and where there’s a long marketing, touch nurtured processor; for most small businesses it’s like, “See ad, click now, buy now.”

What I want to do as a marketer is to shorten that equation as much as possible and that goes for me too. I sell consulting for a living. I sell consulting projects to other businesses, and my job is to create enough value as soon as I possibly can so that my customer goes, or my potential customer goes, “I need that.” The goal then becomes where do I spend my time, and where is my time most valuable? Now as we talked about, for most business owners, marketing is the last thing they do over a glass of wine or a beer at 7:00 at night when they’re trying to get their kids fed, and they spent all day running the business.

The question is, as you start thinking about marketing, you start thinking about the activities of what you’re doing, and reaching those audiences and having them do things, are you creating some sort of value? Ask yourself, one, how can I create the most value in the shortest amount of time? In other words, what can I give away, knowledge, how-to’s, education? What can I do that really shortens that process for that person to go, “I need that now.”

The second thing is if you don’t have the time, and you don’t have the bandwidth, the only three things you can play with are money, time, and resources, human capital. Usually, one of those, or multiples of those, are in short supply. Maybe sometimes all three of them are in short supply, but in order to do something, you have to prioritize it. If you’re going to prioritize it, how do you– maybe you outsource it to a kid. Maybe you outsource it to the smartest person you know. Maybe you pay an agency. Maybe somebody else does something else in the business so that you can do this.

I go back to my friend the contractor who created his videos. His was, he was spending so much time doing the e-mailing of what happened on job sites every day. He said, “I can save some time and create some content, and create some value with this video series. He killed two birds with one stone there.

Cale Guin: That might be one of the best story-telling moments so far. It’s so perfect because it is a small business. It literally was just, “How do I solve a problem?” and became a thing that he could use for marketing. It’s just brilliant.

Robert Rose: It was the way he could add the most value in the shortest amount of time.

Cale Guin: Sure, and he had to do the stupid write-up every day, right? You know what that’s like, reporting back to your customer, and you’ve got to do the write-up. There’s a report. It would be way more fun to do a video, or even do something like this. That does bring me to a point, though. Sometimes I’ve heard marketers say this, and I really am on the fence a little bit. Let’s talk about quality. Now, I know with small businesses, a lot of them aren’t going to have brand guides and tone and messaging, and all of these things. Sometimes you do need to up the quality to a certain standard. Is there a difference between, and what is it? How can you measure the difference between a good quality piece of content and just content for content’s sake?

Robert Rose: The way I look at it is, would I be interested in it? In other words, if I’m creating something that either I’m bored with, or I’m not terribly interested in but it’s easy for me to create, then I know it’s not worth creating. I know someone else can do it, and probably already has. If it’s something that’s challenging for me, or that I would be interested in– and quite honestly, that’s what makes it fun and interesting to do. Which is, if I’m the person who can make this, because I’m an authority on the topic, or because I know how to do it, and I would be interested in this if I were consuming it, then I know that it’s worth doing. Because even if it does already exist out there, I know I can bring something special to it.

My friend and colleague, Joe Pulizzi, who wrote a couple of books with me, calls this your content tilt. Which is, as you start thinking about content, there’s what you’re good at, what you’re an authority at, and what you can explain or do that no one else can. The middle of that is where is your content tilt, which is finding that uniqueness that’s basically something only you can be able to provide.

I’ll give you another good example of this; another small business, they’re a financial services company, there’s seven people. They work with wealth advisors, teaching them about economic forecasts, and stock portfolios, and what they should be investing in. They’re like a consulting firm. It would be easy for them to create a piece of content, a magazine, or a PDF, or an email that basically says, “Here’s the latest economic conditions and you should buy low here.” Basically, the thing that they’re getting from everybody else.

Instead, they went, you know what they’re not getting is, these are people, these wealthy advisors, their audience; these are people who aren’t getting much information on what books they should be reading, what movies are good, what TV shows they might want to watch with their families. They created this book club, which was basically a thing that they could send to their prospective customers and existing customers and say, “This is the thing you’re going to get from us, which is, we’re in a business just like you. We’re just like you and here’s what we’re watching. Here’s what we’re reading. Here’s what gets us excited.” That became the number two reason that these guys started to close clients.

The number one was of course the great advice they got, but the number two was this silly little book club that they created, but it was just this high-quality thing that only they could deliver to their audience.

Cale Guin: What a connector. Talk about that.

Robert Rose: Yes, great connector.

Cale Guin: Yes, it’s just a great way to build a relationship right there. Everybody’s in on it. Like, oh, did you read the book and that’s great.

Robert Rose: That’s right.

Cale Guin: That’s one of the things that I like as well is that I did a podcast not long ago and we like to take questions from people. When we do that, I like to let the people who ask the question, know that we answer your question in this podcast, and I love that. Then they’re just all jacked up about, Oh my God, that’s my question and I just love it. It’s a really fun way to bring people in.

Robert Rose: It’s just adding value to their experience, right?

Cale Guin: It really is.

Robert Rose: When you add value to their experience, by default, you become differentiated in their mind and you develop deeper trust.

Cale Guin: This is the rudimentary conversation. Would it be okay for us to reach out to you again and get a little deeper into content marketing? Do some conceptual type things, and have those conversations. Would you be open to that?

Robert Rose: Of course, absolutely. As you can tell, it’s a topic that I love to talk about. Yes, anytime.

Cale Guin: This is a thing and maybe on a final note here, you put out a lot of content and I know you do. I’ve seen plenty of it. Some of it lands with a thud. Some of it is surprisingly awesome. I did a thing once where we were giving away $100 worth of groceries. It did better than giving away a car and it was just one of those things. I don’t know why it happened that way, I really don’t, but talk to me about that a little bit. Have you gotten to the point and what can one look for those little hotspots and the thuds?

Robert Rose: Here’s the most unsatisfying answer that you will ever hear, which is, you never know. I have put days, months of work into a blog post and it’s the most, well-researched, I’m passionate about it, I’m so proud of the way that I turned the phrase and used a cool pun. I couldn’t be more proud of it but I hit publish and it’s like, you can hear the crickets, and then other times when I’m on deadline and I just go, ah, screw it.

Cale Guin: Yes.

Robert Rose: I’m going to throw something together here. Like it tears the roof off, right?

Cale Guin: Isn’t that something?

Robert Rose: You just don’t know and the only thing I’ve learned over the last 20 years as I’ve been doing this is all you can do is your best and as long as you do your best, some of it will hit and some of it won’t, and you’ll never know which it’s going to be.

Cale Guin: A bonafide expert in content marketing and, thank you for your time, your expertise. If there’s anything ever we can do for you, I would be happy to help out with anything and we would like to be able to reach out to you again for future shows and more information if that is okay with you.

Robert Rose: Absolutely, happy to do it, Cale.

Cale Guin: All right. Thank You very much, Robert. Have a great day and we will definitely be talking to you.

Robert Rose: That sounds great.

Cale Guin: All right. Bye-bye.

Robert Rose: All right. Cheers.

[00:29:17] [END OF AUDIO]

Expert: Robert Rose

For more than 25 years, Robert has helped marketing leaders balance the art and science of marketing, and tell their story more effectively. Over the last ten years, Robert and his firm The Content Advisory have worked with more than 500 companies, including 15 of the Fortune 100.

Robert has served as the Chief Strategy Advisor of The Content Marketing Institute since its launch in 2010 and helping guide it to be the leading global content marketing education and training organization. Robert was CMO of CrownPeak – leading the marketing and product development of one of the world’s first enterprise Software-as-a-Service web content solutions.

Robert is the author of three best-selling books on marketing and content strategy, and the co-host of the popular marketing podcast PNR’s This Old Marketing, which has been downloaded more than two million times in 150 countries.

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