5 Boston Experts Weigh In On Content Marketing For Business

This post was written by Boston Content committee member Juliana Casale, currently the Head of Marketing at Crazy Egg. You can follow her on Twitter @attackofthetext.

Content marketing has been around long enough now to have its own institute, spawn multiple SaaS platforms, thought leaders, and annual conferences.

While many companies are “doing content marketing” in 2018, what are their expectations? How are they measuring success?

WeWork recently hosted a panel of 5 experts, moderated by yours truly and organized by event planner Jed Hammel. The high-level goals were to:

  • Talk about how content has evolved

  • Talk about how content can provide value for businesses

Here’s what the panelists had to say:

Sarah Bedrick, Co-Founder & Head of Marketing at Compt and Co-Founder of HubSpot Academy

1. You co-founded HubSpot Academy to help marketers and small businesses thrive. In your experience, what are the various ways in which content marketing helps a company grow?

Woof; that’s a big question. Well first, it’s probably helpful to define content marketing. As I see it, content marketing is any type of content - blog posts, e-books, classes, guides, templates, FAQ sheets, webinars, emails, support content - that helps companies to grow and sustain their business.

Content is a powerful tool. Some business are built solely out of content - think about course websites like Udemy or Coursera where their entire business is built off of content. There’s so many companies like that today - so it’s easy to see how instrumental content is to a business.

When most marketers think of content, they think of the marketing funnel with top, middle, and bottom-of-the-funnel content, and that’s certainly right. However, there’s also content that supports a company’s customers. That content can help them see more value from the product or service, purchase more, or even turn them into an advocate or promoter of the business. Those customers who are raving fans are likely to be the ones who are sharing your product/service with others and are working as an extension of your team to tell the world about your company.

With my experience from building the HubSpot Academy team, one example of how a type of content can help at every at every stage of the Inbound Methodology was our certifications program.

Our free certifications attracted the marketing and sales professionals to the world of inbound,  and HubSpot as a software suite. After people watched our courses, they “got” inbound and were often ready to buy HubSpot. Then, the users who purchased HubSpot were better customers and stayed on with the platform longer. They also were some of our most amazing advocates out in the wild. Our content was some of the highest lead generating, best quality leads, best quality customers - and it also worked to decrease the typical funnel’s timeframes.

One last thought on how content can help help a company grow - obviously, not all content is created equal. However, if you find something that works think about how you can turn that piece of content from an ad hoc project, to a content product, and then a full-blown program. The difference between all of them is that as they become more impactful for the business, they become more intertwined with the marketing or business machine.

Eventually when I was leaving the HSA team, content was being used throughout many funnels that other marketers impacted, we had our content translated into five different languages, and people were integrating this into their sales funnel and customer success funnels. Our content and team went from being an experiment to being a core part of the company’s content offerings.

2. You are currently the Head of Marketing at Compt, which is in private beta. Often, marketers are handed down tools and reports when they join a company, so it must be exciting to be able to start from scratch in your case! What kind of tools will you be using to create, promote, and measure your content?

You mention tools and reports. Tools can be taken a few ways here.

For tools, we’re developing marketing tools like a calculator to help companies see how much they’re spending on perks and how much of that is actually going to something meaningful for the individual employees.

Another tool we recently launched is our Company Culture Index which is a massive database full of company culture initiatives for others to learn from and be inspired by. There are so many cool companies doing cool things but there’s no one go-to resource for business leaders, team managers, HR, and the culture-obsessed:

  • Marketers have reallygoodemails.com.

  • Marketers and sales have reallygoodchatbots.com

  • Product has reallygoodux.io.

  • Now business leaders have the Company Culture Index.

As far as tools like marketing tools to help me accomplish my job, that’s been a fun transition that I’m constantly navigating. I was at HubSpot for so long and am so proficient with that and their suite is so wide and deep, that was some of the only tools I used for a while.

I’m using GA, Hotjar, Databox, Drift, HubSpot free, Product Hunt, and WordPress and a ton of their plugins.

I feel like when you’re first starting out, you’re tracking the most basic funnel. At HubSpot we tracked many, many elements of our certification sign up from sign up for HSA, to watch first class, to take a quiz, to attempt the exam, to fail and return to pass later on, and eventually pass, then talk to sales, etc. However, we’re starting out simple with our basic funnel and building it out over time.

And as far as reports, I love Databox. Their reporting tools are incredible.

Reggie Woo, Content Marketing Coordinator at Vivantio

1. You’ve done a fair amount of freelance content marketing. How were you pitching your value proposition to potential clients in terms of measurable results?

To be honest, a lot of my freelance content gigs were with established content teams that had strong guidelines and specific goals for their freelancers from the get-go. So, I often didn’t have to push myself for pitching, because I would either meet their criteria or wouldn’t. Sometimes I wish I had the opportunity to really dig deeper and pitch more value, because the success of these gigs were also often measured with purely arbitrary metrics, the most predominant ones being either number of articles or views/site traffic.

Having experience as a freelancer and one who manages a freelance team, I totally understand that setting the right expectations for success can be really difficult as a freelancer, especially since you can often run into situations where you don’t have full access to the context behind your content.

When you can, it’s incredibly important to remember to take the time to understand how your content is helping your client meet their business needs and set achievable goals around metrics that reflect those goals in order to provide the most value. For example, if the larger goal is to grow an engaged audience, try to propose measuring deeper metrics like new visitors, referral traffic, and subscriber growth.

2. You just landed a new in-house gig as a Content Marketing Coordinator (congrats!). I know that across my career, content has been expected to perform different functions depending on where I worked. What are Vivantio’s expectations for what your content will achieve or deliver?

Similarly to many other companies, Vivantio’s main goal is to cultivate a growing, healthy sales pipeline. Their primary expectation is that my content will identify and bring in qualified sales leads. However, we’ve also discussed how saturated the ITSM market is (especially in terms of content), so another goal that I have is to create content that will specifically differentiate ourselves and clearly communicate the unique value and identity that Vivantio brings to the table.

Marina Erulkar, Data-driven strategist and the Principal & Founder of Hampstead Solutions LLC

1. You’ve had a lot of in-house experience with marketing strategy over the years, and now you are helping your consulting clients grow their businesses.

What changes have you seen in the content marketing field over time? Are there any common misconceptions or assumptions that you’ve had to battle?

There was a time when each piece of content was highly targeted and highly considered. Marketing went through rounds of editing. Now the pendulum has swung the other way: Everyone is a writer and a publisher.

Because it’s so easy to publish and distribute content, often the assumption is that more is more. It’s a misconception I’ve had to address. More content is great if it’s created to serve a specific audience for a specific purpose.

As an example, I had a SaaS client who had no understanding of their customer and how purchases were decided. So, they created content for themselves. Content was increasingly more specialized. It certainly impressed colleagues but did nothing to drive engagement and sales. Revenue was on the decline.

We had to start at the beginning and create the greatest hits that were written to the needs of different decision-makers.

2. Talk to me about how you approach industries and business growth stages.

For all industries, I first work to understand the customer: what they need and how decisions are reached. It’s obvious, but the decision to buy gum at the register is different than the decision to buy a Sub Zero. The risk is different. So, for every industry the first step for me is:

  • What content will support a decision?

  • How can I de-risk the decision?

For startups, all resources are at a premium. So, team members typically can’t spend a lot of time writing and there often isn’t budget for outsourcing.

So, content has to effectively move a broad set of customers forward as much as possible to a purchase. Often, the decision process isn’t understood, so this is the time to test and refine.

As companies grow, their content can become more specialized. As an example, through analysis for a mid-sized client, I uncovered new industry targets. Analysis also revealed that these industries had different needs than those the client typically targeted. We had to retool the content to speak more specifically to these additional industries.

For larger companies that often have greater resources, the challenge becomes keeping the content relevant and brand-right. Again, because all of us now can distribute content, larger companies have to ensure that the breadth of messaging is relevant—and helpful.

3. Should content marketing strategy differ between B2C and B2B businesses?

It should! With B2B, content needs to reflect an understanding of business needs. There are often multiple decision-makers from different areas of the organization. Often those decision-makers reach decisions differently. For example, executives need to see ROI content first to appreciate the value to their organization. If satisfied, they will dig into the details. Conversely, technical audiences want specs first. Once they have determined that the technology is legitimate, they move on to the value-related content.

For B2C, content needs to reflect needs also, but on a personal level. To effectively establish relationships with content, you need to straddle a line: show that you understand without being intrusive.

4. How should strategy evolve as a startup reaches maturity?

Again, being resource-constrained can have its benefits. When startups have tested, measured and understand what content works, as they grow they can develop additional content that may speed a purchase decision, or complementary content that may serve a newly-recognized audience—whether that is additional decision-makers or new industries.

Jed Hammel, Event/Video producer (Filmshift Festival, City Awake, Volta video productions)

1. You specialize in video production, and it seems like a lot of businesses are trying to produce their own selfie videos on LinkedIn these days. Why is clear, on-brand, and emotionally engaging content important? 

Any time you engage with your audience via video, you are sending a message to them about your brand. The key is to be mindful of how that message is expressed both visually and audio-wise. Everything in a video is part of that message. In the same way that a logo, tagline, mission statement, spokesperson, what you wear, what your office looks like, the level of diversity of your team, and so on sends a message to a potential customer, so does what a video looks and sounds like.

With professional video, there is a reason why directors choose certain angles to capture their subjects, why wardrobe picks certain outfits over others, and why the prop department chooses specific objects/settings for the background. The reason is that there is a direct effect on the viewer from how a video looks and sounds. A potential consumer may not be able to express the difference between a video that was planned carefully and one that is of you walking in a park as you talk off the top of your head and squint into the sun, but they will express this difference with their wallet. 

Beyond that, it’s a missed opportunity. Every object, color, sound, person, etc. in a video is a chance to communicate your differentiation in the marketplace, so being mindful of each element in your video is a must.

Video has become so available as a tool that people forget that a tool is only as effective as the person wielding it.

People spend hours choosing what they're going to wear for the day, what font to have on their website, and the perfect logo for their business, but somehow they're cool with a video that isn't on-brand and that has weird angles, bad lighting/graphics, and is as lo-fi as possible. 

There actually is a strong case to made for this type of video to be part of your offerings. I just see a dichotomy between people stressing over fonts or which business card looks the best, yet allowing a spokesperson who doesn’t best represent their brand talking without a script with a random or boring background distracting the audience.

Industry leaders can be effective with lo-fi videos for the very reason that they are the leaders. If you aren’t your industry’s biggest name, my advice is to do everything you can to differentiate yourself from the pack and to use every opportunity and medium you can to communicate your company’s message.

2. In the content world, video has typically been viewed as an engagement play. But can it be evaluated in direct response terms (i.e., someone took an action after viewing)? If so, how?

Good question! A majority of videos in your repertoire should have clear CTAs as part of them.  Some suggestions include asking folks to: “Decide to find 10 great things you love about your business or your team each day” to something more inbound such as: “Sign up to receive our e-book, additional video content.” Or even the usual such as: “Please leave a comment/ask a question/answer a question.”

Christian Jones, Brand Strategist at Neil Creative/Co-Founder at Flipping Bricks University

1. You’re the CMO/Branding Director at your new venture, Flipping Bricks University, and you have been a branding instructor at General Assembly. In your opinion, how does branding (or lack of branding) affect the way content is perceived?

Branding is about three things:

  1. Clarity

  2. Consistency

  3. Creativity

In this day and age we are inundated with information. Because of that, it’s about being able to properly distinguish the useful and relevant information from the bunch. By creating clarity with your brand (who you are, what you do, why you matter and ultimately your relevancy to your target market), you are lowering this access barrier because you’ve done half the thinking for them.

Consistency creates recognition and familiarity. Having a consistent content schedule is important because that drives the development of your brand reputation.

Lastly, we mention creativity. How do we make ourselves unique by the words we say and how we look? They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but in reality we do. Taking all these things into consideration, they will all help improve the effectiveness of all your content marketing efforts. Lacking in any of these areas will only get you lost in a flood of information that we get every single day.

2. As Crazy Egg’s head of marketing, I’m particularly interested in how website content and design play a role in customer acquisition (which is basically every company’s goal for their content, at the end of the day). As a brand strategist for business owners, can you speak a little about how you’ve helped map their content to the journey their buyers take to get to a purchase?

The magic question is always WHY?

Before they arrive… Why should they come to you?

When they arrive… Why are they here? And Why would they leave?

If they stay… why should they stay longer? Or why should they come back?

I believe in the power of THREEs to drive organized thinking. My objective is always to push towards a focal point. In most cases, there’s a lot of content that goes into customer acquisition.