Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
How to Humanise Your Content Marketing
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Isn’t there enough content out there already? How can business owners find time for social? What does “letting go” of content actually mean? How can we ensure we keep it human online? I speak to Chris Marr of the Content Marketing Academy to get all the answers.

Listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary of our conversation.

Tell us about the Content Marketing Academy and what you do?

We’re based on the east coast of Scotland in a place called Fife. I’m not sure if anyone has heard of that before. But we’re based here, but we also work in Edinburgh, and the main cities in Scotland as well. My role as the director, I created this. This is my baby, I guess. It’s grown over the last two and a half years. We’re almost three years old actually. And we’ve got more and more niche. We’ve niched down, I guess, over the course of time into this thing called content marketing. Instead of being general marketing, really getting heavily involved into content.

So yeah, we do lots of things here. Just to give you a sort of flavour of what we do, I guess at the heart of what we do is education, right? We’re trying to teach people about content marketing, get them involved in content and inspire more of it, but also create something more tangible from this thing, and make sure that they’re getting business results from it too. A lot of that is workshops and seminars and the content that we create ourselves like podcasts and things like that. But also we run our conference every year where we bring speakers in, and we try to get people access to people that they wouldn’t normally have access to. And we also do this sort of traditional agency type stuff as well. So we have a membership organisation at the foundation of what we do.

So we’re really trying to put content marketing on the map here in Scotland. And that’s really our purpose, to change the way the businesses and organisations communicate forever. That’s our mission, basically.

There is a lot of content out there already. Remind us, why is content marketing essential?

There are lots of reasons. That’s a great question. But I think we have to think, yes, there’s a lot of content out there, but you’ve got to think of it why there’s a lot of content out there. There is demand for that types of content. People are looking for this. People are consuming more and more content every single day. And if you as an organisation aren’t creating content, then you don’t exist. You don’t exist out there. If you aren’t creating content, people can’t find what they’re looking for. You’re not there.

It’s important to think about the long-term value of content marketing – to engage, to start a conversation, to build trust, to be found. Just the huge value and the business benefits around that are incredible. There’s lots and lots of reasons why we need it.

The biggest case, I think, for content marketing, or part of the business case for content marketing, is this you at the moment of thirst. A lot of us have probably heard this before, in that 70% of the buying decision is made online before first contact. People are spending time researching. They want to be educated buyers. They’re not in buying mode. They’re in research mode. They’re getting that information from someone. They’re getting their questions answered, their problems solved by content, blogs, podcasts, videos.

And if you’re not creating content, and you’re not serving them at a time when they’re not ready to buy, or they don’t even know who you are yet, then you’re missing a massive trick. You’re missing that 70%. You’re not helping to build that relationship and that trust.

And that’s where content marketing comes in. It’s probably the single biggest or the single best way to build trust with an audience is through content. I don’t think there’s any other way to do the same thing, to market a business really today. I think organisations have got away with shouting loud. The louder you shout basically, the more attention you get, and therefore the more customers you get.

But content marketing is really a lot different than that. It’s about creating content that people can find when they need it the most. And it’s about creating better customers as well. It’s not about just getting any customer. It’s about getting the best customers for your business. And people do that through self-selection. They’re reading your content. And they decide if they want to buy from you, when they want to buy from you.

Why can’t business owners the find time for social and for content marketing?

It’s like the biggest excuse that you get is like, “I don’t have the time.” And it could be they don’t have the time to write a blog article. We get much higher level now, even. There’s like they don’t even have time to learn. They don’t have the time to read a book or go to a conference or listen to a podcast or even educate themselves. So we’re up against it right away when we’re trying to get people to think differently about how you communicate.

So the reason that people don’t have the time is because they don’t value it, right? And it is the biggest excuse we get, but it is the equivalent of the dog ate my homework, right? It’s literally just an excuse.

And if people were to value it more and they understood exactly how it works, then they would probably make the time. You have to make the time for anything, just like anything in life, really. Going to the gym, if you know and understand the importance of living a longer life and being healthy, then you’re going to go to the gym three, four times a week knowing that compounding effect over a long period of time is going to benefit you.

So same thing with content marketing. The reason that they can’t take the time is wrapped up in a lot of things, to be honest. Fear, fear of new technology, fear of learning something new, fear of publishing their first blog article, fear of getting in front of a camera, fear of technology. And all you need to overcome any of that is really to actually do it, to understand, to teach yourself, and then get some stuff out there, take some action, and understand how all really works.

And complacency as well, to be honest. That is a massive factor in business. It’s just people with their head in the sand, not willing to accept that things are changing and that you need to be relevant. And just all of that stuff, to be honest. It’s like there’s just so many barriers.

The biggest question we ask is, “What will prevent content marketing from working in your organisation – time, resources, complacency, getting buy-in from the team and the management, and lack of strategy, lack of ideas for content?” All of these things are massive barriers.

So the only reason, the only way really that business owners can get over all of that is get to a workshop, get to a conference, listen to podcasts like this, get the inspiration you need, and make it work. And just really prioritise in general marketing in your business, understanding that it’s the single most important aspect in your business. It’s the only thing that will differentiate you from your competition.

What does “letting go of content” mean?

This is a thing that’s on my mind a lot just now. We seem to be speaking about it with our clients a lot, too. And I’ll give you maybe one or two examples here. I’m recently having a conversation with one of our members, and she was talking about email marketing.

What she wanted basically was for her to write a lot of blurb about our new blog article, send out by email to her audience and get them to click through the blog and read it. And I don’t know if that’s really worked that well in the past anyway. And of course, she’s concerned about not just the open rate but the click-through rate from those emails.

And what we’re starting to find is that especially on mobile, people aren’t clicking out of the app they’re in to go to a different platform to read content where they are. So for example, if you’re in your email, you might want to just read what you need to read in the email without clicking through to the article.

Another good example of that is Facebook, and another reason this has become a priority for me is because I’m recognising it on my own behaviour as well, so when I’m on Facebook, I’m not clicking through to other people’s blog articles, but I’d actually much rather just thumb my way down the article. And I’ll read it, I’ll scan through it there. And if I want to read more or if I want to, I can interact with the author right there and then as well. I can just add a comment, which is fantastic.

So there’s a lot of things to be said for letting go of your content. And the reason that I’m saying letting go or unleash, this has kind of been inspired by Mark Schaefer a little bit, and the recent conversations he’s been having, like I recognise it in my own behaviour, and the biggest challenge I think for all of us, especially I find this myself, is that I want traffic to my website. I want to see clicks coming through from Facebook and LinkedIn and all these third party websites and social websites.

But to be honest with you, it was hard anyway. It was really hard to get those referral links through, or to click-through to the website.

So what I’m finding is actually, when I say letting go, it’s almost like you need to let go of the short-term transactional data metrics, the traffic to your website, and almost let go of the fact that you might never actually be able to track exactly how many people are reading your content. But knowing that if you can unleash it, in other words get it in front of people, where they are right now, and allow them to read it with ease, without any friction, then they’re more likely to read it.

And the purpose of content, the core purpose of content, the outcome is the results, the metrics, the traffic, but the core purpose is you obviously want people to read this piece of content you’ve spent lots and lots of time doing. And not only that, writing story. And not only that, you want them to share it.

So I think that if we get back to the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve, which is to change people, to inspire people, to entertain people, to educate people, then why are we putting barriers in place to stop them from getting to our content just because we want to see in our analytics that we’ve got more user sessions or more traffic?

The website is still very, very important in this whole thing. It’s just that, I think, it’s been pushed back a little bit in where it fits in in the funnel when people are consuming content. That’s what we’ve been talking about, are exploring just now, this idea of letting go of your content.

What social and digital channels do you think work best for content marketing?

That’s a really difficult question to answer in some respects because they all work. It’s about working them. And I think we can ask this in turn, it’s like, people say something like, “Only go to the platforms where your ideal clients are.” And it’s like, I get that. That makes a lot of sense. There’s no point going to a platform where your audience just aren’t there.

But if you take that out of the equation for a second, regardless of what platform you go to, you’re going to have to work hard. It doesn’t matter which platform it is, you’re going to have to work hard to build the audience. Why should people care that you’re there to get their attention?

So I think when it comes to platforms that work best for content marketing, it depends on what you’re thinking. Content marketing to me is an approach. It’s a philosophy of communication, not a thing that you do, it’s the way that you do it. So you can take content marketing to any platform, and regardless of which platform you go to, you’re going to have to work hard to earn the attention of your audience anyway.

So I think for me personally, I get a lot of value off loads of different platforms. We’re like social butterflies here at the Content Marketing Academy, and we’re using Snapchat and Periscope and Blab and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and trying to spread, get ourselves involved in all of these platforms.

Yes, they all work differently. Natively they’ll have their different sort of the ways in which you use them, and you have to play to that. But at the same time, if you’re going to any platform with the same approach, which may be to help to educate or to inspire or motivate, whatever it might be, then that should be consistent across all the platforms anyway.

If you could only use one platform, what would it be?

I would use Snapchat right now. And the reason for that is just the ability to tell your story. And it’s hugely engaging. It’s like what social media should be, like this ability to almost get access to people.

I’ve had huge value from Snapchat in the last four weeks or so. And it’s just sort of exploded in a more mature market and the business space as well. And it’s opened up just a huge opportunity. We’re getting more recognition there. People can see more of our content there. And just this ability to tell your story throughout the day, that’s 24-hour period, it’s incredible. It’s incredible.

What is your favourite social media platform and why?

A post shared by Chris Marr (@chrismarr101) on

Why do business people struggle to adapt new channels such as Snapchat or Instagram?

The question that we asked earlier about the whole fear and complacency and all that, that applies again still. But I can give you a really good example. So I was speaking to a group of business owners, entrepreneurs last week. It was Friday, 4 o’clock in the evening.

And part of my slide deck, I had very basic slide deck, but slide two was my Snapchat code, my Snapcode. And I was like, “Anyone on Snapchat,” kind of thing. And one person in the room was on Snapchat didn’t really use it that well. And these people are between 25 and 40, maybe, something like that, so that marketplace where Snapchat is really exploding just now.

And as soon as I put the Snapcode on the screen, immediately half the people in the room were like, “That’s just for teenagers. That’s just for…”, assumption one, assumption two, assumption three.

That is the reason, to answer the question directly, that’s the reason why most people aren’t adapting to these new channels, why business people struggle to adapt to these new channels, is because they have these preconceived assumptions about why the platform wouldn’t work for them. And what they need as a mindset are a mind that is set on something. And what I think business people really need to appreciate is the fact that they need to be a little bit more open to change.

Like for example, we go back to about five or six years ago, not even that long ago, really, and people were saying, “I’ll never use Facebook,” or “I’ll never use an emoji in a text message,” right? Or they’ll never do X, Y, Z. And yet here we are, doing all these things.

So this is throughout the whole of, I don’t know, the whole of life, I guess, that’s really the biggest barrier, I think, for business people to grab early opportunities is the fact that they make an assumption about a platform before they even give it a chance to explore where the opportunities might be. That’s the biggest thing that’s against them.

Even now with Facebook and Twitter, they make assumptions. You’ll get this all the time probably, “I don’t like Twitter.” And it’s like, why does that even matter, right? There’s people there. You need to figure out how to communicate on these platforms, which is 2016. If you don’t try and figure out now, then what’s it going to be like in a year’s time or in two years’ time? You’re going to be really far behind.

So I think this assumption, this mindset of business people that think that something isn’t for them, or they feel like they don’t like it, or they have like a personal feeling towards something, and that’s basically throttling their business opportunity or this ability to get their message out there.

What’s the best way to make an impact with storytelling on social?

This is getting really interesting, I think, now, especially with Snapchat on the scene. And it’s actually changing the way that I approach social in general. And what I mean by that, you mentioned personal branding out there, I think we need to think seriously about how we give access, how we give people access to us, small businesses.

The platforms are there. There’s no doubt that the platforms are there. Periscope was here a year ago. I’ve got Snapchat, Blab, and Facebook Live. This ability to give people direct access into our business and to our lives and whatever, our personal lives and business lives, it’s one and the same thing, and the ability to tell that story.

So there’s this whole personal branding piece where I think business owners, generally speaking, aren’t really prepared to give people that kind of access to their business. They want to hide behind the brand. They want to be the end of an email or the other end of a phone call. But they’re not willing to open up and tell the story.

And I think that the businesses are able to do that, are going to build trust to a level far greater than they would have before, and also build a lot quicker as well. So if you know how a business works, trust is everything, right? You buy from people that you know, and you trust people, buy from people. Still today in 2016, that’s the case. And it will always be like that.

But you can use this platforms, I think, to really, really play that game. To really open up and then put your foot on the gas, giving people access to things like Snapchat and all these live broadcasting, looking at not just your own personal brand and business, but the people within your business.

If you’ve got a team of people there, thinking about how they could use these platforms to fill their own personal brand and at the same time your business benefits. So it’s almost like we’re getting to this point where the businesses are able to let go of this restriction they’re putting on themselves to be a brand and actually get the people involved.

I think we’ve been here before, the humanisation or the personalisation of our brand. I think they’re going to win, going forward, they’ve got the best opportunity. And the ones that are sitting there and not embracing this change, I think they’ll slowly just whittle away into the noise. Yeah, they’ll probably still do okay in business but they’re not leveraging that opportunity to build that trust and that relationship with people.

How can business owners project their personal brands on social?

Tell your story. I mean that’s just the key thing. People want to know about you. You’ve got something, a story to tell there as well and you’ve got your whole life there. Your business, your personal life, an insight. Like for example, I’ll try to think of a good example for this.

I send an email out, by the way we talked about social media, as if it’s a separate thing to every single other form of communication. Email is a form of social media in my eyes as well. It’s a way to communicate with people and you go straight to them and you can have a conversation with them.

And I sent an email out last week or so. And it was probably the most personal email I’ve ever sent. I told the story. I tell people how I felt about it. There were sadness, there was emotion. And then I brought it into business sense and gave a bit of advice around how people need to open up and be more personable in their communications regardless of what platform they’re in.

The best response I’ve had by far to a piece of marketing, which is not what it really was, but it’s the best response I’ve ever had from a business audience from an email that I’ve sent, personal replies about life and death and emotions that people were feeling. And that’s how this sort of new, this sort of like deeper connection that’s coming through from these social platforms is just changing the whole approach to how I communicate. I can see it in other people’s communication as well.

And I just want to emphasise really that’s it’s not just Snapchat and Instagram that actually you can tell your story. By doing it on one platform, I actually feel it’s right to do it in other places as well. Because it’s your personal brand, that consistent message.

If I am sharing really personal stuff or really getting into the thick of it on Snapchat, and then someone goes to Instagram and sees just a bunch of business quotes, it’s not consistent, is it? It’s like trying to embrace that whole approach to everything and the whole way that you communicate.

What are the best tools and apps for content and social marketing in 2016?

I’ll tell you what. I’ll open up my iPhone and look at my home page on my iPhone. Slack is by far the most popular app that I use in my iPhone. And after that it’s Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those are the apps that I’m using on a day-to-day basis, I would say. When it comes to technology I think that the one thing, the one application that really is a foundation or some of it we just use every day without even thinking about it is Buffer.

Buffer is just like there doing its job for us, creating content and getting out on to your social channels. So I would say that it’s almost like it’s a forgotten app. But the reason I’ve forgotten about it is because it’s made me redundant in some ways or there’s some redundancy there, which is awesome. So Buffer, if anyone’s in the social media space has probably heard of Buffer. But if you use it properly, it’s a fantastic app. It’s very, very affordable and it works very, very well.

From a website technology perspective there, WordPress, hands down. We’ve worked with so many other CMS systems and WordPress is not perfect but it’s better than pretty much every other CMSs out there. And it’s very familiar and easy to use. So yeah, definitely recommend using WordPress for your website, especially if you’re looking at the long term. And if you need help with development, most people can use WordPress and help you with it.

And email, we’re using ConvertKit at the moment. That’s where we moved over from MailChimp to ConvertKit recently in the last six months. Four months ago. But we still use MailChimp for our clients as well. So yeah, emails, email marketing software, very affordable, definitely worth investing in.

What made you switch away from MailChimp to ConvertKit?

So we moved over. Pat Flynn is one of the big advocates of ConvertKit recently. He was one of their bigger, early adaptors. But the reason that I moved, it’s painful to move email marketing platform, right? Because you’ve got all your segmentation, you’ve got all your history there. All that kind of stuff. Very painful move.

The reason that we did it was because ConvertKit is built up on a certain philosophy. And MailChimp… I think they’ve got legacy stuff there. They’re trying to change the way they do things in MailChimp. But the way that they built it from the very start is around broadcasting emails, so sending a one-off broadcast to your audience.

ConvertKit is built on the philosophy of never, ever sending another broadcast email almost. That’s kind of like what they’re trying to get out to people. And trying to build more sequences, tagging, and be able to segment your audience really, really easily through type, what they call tags and segmentation. It’s so simple to use. It’s like a breath of fresh air when you use the platform. It’s very simple. It’s simple email as well.

There’s no email template like MailChimp because you don’t need them anymore. And it’s all about trying to make sure that you use an email in the right way. Which is every time someone gets an email from you, from your business, it just feels like they’re getting it from a friend.

What brands inspire you on social?

What brands do inspire me? You know what, it’s always people. And it’s strange one that I like the idea of being able to see into people’s lives.

In Scotland there’s a local football team called Dunfermline Athletic. They’re not a great team at all. They’re kind of second league maybe or something like that. I don’t know where they are in the league, but my family support them. But they’re doing amazing things with social media and Snapchat, and really trying to tell their stories and embrace the fans, and engage with their audience.

I think in general, when you’re looking at social media, I think a lot of the sports team do really, really well. Baseball in America, for example, football in America. But in Scotland, you know what, I think there’s space in Scotland for someone to really, really own that basically.

I watch Casey Neistat in videos on YouTube every single day. The quality, the inspiration there is just amazing. I look at that and I think how is this even possible for them to do this on a daily basis? But I guess they’ve done…and he’s a super nice guy.

And another New York person as well, Gary Vaynerchuk. I watch his videos more and like really enjoying his Daily Vee stuff just now. But again he inspires me across all channels, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and his video stuff as well on YouTube.

Joe Wicks, The Body Coach, if you’ve heard of him recently. He’s a real inspiration, a very recent sort of case study in content marketing. And his story’s really…from anyone that’s in business and thinking about social media and content marketing, he’s someone to dig into his story.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chrismarr101.