In this episode of The Kula Ring, Jeff and Carman talk to Amber Naslund about how marketers can make a bigger impact with content that provides real value to prospects and customers.
Content Marketing Isn’t Dead Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring. My name is Jeff White. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, I’m really excited about our guest today. She’s a bit of an OG in the social media and content marketing space and we’re really, really glad to have her.
Carman Pirie: Man, that is a great reference, too, given that Canada has just entered into legal recreational cannabis in the last little while, and you come out with an OG reference in the podcast. I like it.
Yes, look, I’m incredibly excited. It’s rare that we get a chance to speak with someone who has such a long track record in the space and is still very much working in the middle of the thick of it. Please, introduce without further ado.
Jeff White: Yes, joining us today is Amber Naslund. Amber is the Senior Content Marketing Evangelist at LinkedIn, as well has a history in the not for profit space. A little company that we certainly knew of around these parts called Radian6, that was sold to Salesforce for a many million dollar deal back in the day. Welcome, Amber, thanks for joining us.
Amber Naslund: Thank you guys so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Carman Pirie: It’s probably been a little white since Radian6 has come up in an introduction, but that just tells you the East Coast Canada coming out in us.
Jeff White: Yes for sure. You were one of the early customers of Radian6 if I recall correctly, were you not?
Carman Pirie: Yes yes, although I can take no credit for the multi-million dollar exit.
Jeff White: None of the benefit either.
Amber Naslund: Yes, that was a super fun ride. I joke a lot. I’ve worked for three Canadian companies now, so I talk a lot about the fact that I’m virtually adopted Canadian.
Jeff White: That’s how you get a passport actually.
Amber Naslund: I should just try that next time when I’m going through customs.
Carman Pirie: I find when I’m working a lot with folks from certain parts of the States, the ya’ll enters my vocabulary. You find that you just start with the eh’s every once in a while now?
Amber Naslund: Even more subtle than that after working with Canadian companies and customers for so long, I started rounding my OU diphthongs, so when I said things like house it came out as house. I’m doing very Canadian inflections on things. The longer I spent up there the worse it was getting, to the point where people in Chicago were like, “What are you doing with your spare time? You sound strange.”
Carman Pirie: I’m one of those Canadians that I just don’t hear this OU thing that you guys make fun of us for so I’m completely oblivious to it.
Jeff White: Unless you go really far with house.
Carman Pirie: Yes. All right, that’s not what we’re here to talk about though. Although I really feel like we’ve strengthened the connection between our countries here in the first moments.
Amber Naslund: Like I said, I’m for sure adopted Canadian so you guys are like my second family.
Carman Pirie: Awesome, awesome, well look, we’re happy to have you back in the family for the next little while here.
Amber Naslund: Thank you.
Carman Pirie: Let’s get started. It’s funny because a good friend of mine is fond of saying that content marketing died a couple of minutes after it was born because it was all content and no insight. What do you say to that?
Amber Naslund: Content marketing didn’t die, but what happens as with anything when it gains traction in a business marketplace, you are challenged to find the signal amongst the noise. I think that when lots of companies decided that they needed to do content marketing, and lots of individuals for that matter. Frankly I don’t think content marketing, in air quotes, is any different than the marketing we’ve been doing for many years, but we gave a name to some of the tools and strategies that we’ve been using, hopefully most of us, for a really long time. I don’t think it’s dead nor is it dying, nor is it going anywhere, but its prevalence has fostered this culture of treating it like it’s a shortcut.
If I can crank out a white paper or if I can make a brochurey, pdfy, feeling thing and call it content marketing when it’s really a thinly veiled product pitch or when there’s nothing really of substance in the asset itself, it for sure devalues what content marketing is overall, and the skeptics then have a lot to say about that. Because they’re not wrong that it’s noisy and they’re not wrong that there’s some pretty mediocre, if not downright awful, content out there. That doesn’t mean that content marketing as a discipline isn’t legitimate, it just means it’s beholden to all of us as digital marketers to spend time learning how to do it well versus just trying to use it as a panacea under the guise of demand generation or whatever we want to call it these days.
Carman Pirie: It begs the question then I guess, start pushing us. How ought our listeners be doing it better? We kind of know the state of B2B content marketing today. I think in some ways you just summarized it quite nicely, and I do think that you’ve hit on the challenge there that there’s a requirement for us to up the quality. What does that look like?
Amber Naslund: It starts with putting your customers’ challenges at the center of your content rather than your own promotional marketing or whatnot messages. I think as marketers we get quite myopic around needing our key messages front and center or making sure we write our content with the value proposition front and center. But the mistake we make is that value is in the eye of the beholder, which is ultimately our prospects and customers. Great content starts by asking what are our prospects and customers challenged by and how can we be helpful and useful through our content, first and foremost? That sounds overly simple but I could give you dozens of examples of that content that your friend was referring to, the really overly promotional not a lot of substance stuff, because the marketers start with their own needs and wants in mind instead of those of their customers.
It’s a really uncomfortable feeling for a lot of people in business because they think, “well I’m giving away the farm by creating content around what I know and what my expertise is, and that’s what I want my customers to pay for”. The reality is that in a world where as much as 80% of a B2B buying decision is made before a prospect or customer ever initiates contact with a human at a business, they are researching continuously, they’re spending time asking people that they know for recommendations, they’re doing research on the web. Content should serve as the backbone for answering the questions that they have in that research process, which again is not just about us making sure we get our key messages and value prop front and center, it’s how can we be helpful and useful to the people we’re trying to serve? It’s a bit of a change of ethos for a lot of companies, but it’s the one that separates good content from bad.
Jeff White: That’s interesting because I mean, basically, that’s the same message that we’ve been hearing since The Cluetrain Manifesto or Scoble’s early book, or any of those things is that it should hurt.
Amber Naslund: Yes.
Jeff White: To put stuff out there. You mentioned that you’ve seen some great examples. Can you talk us through a few?
Amber Naslund: Yes sure. In the B2B space one of the companies that does this brilliantly is EY, formerly known as Ernst and Young. They’re in the professional services space, a pretty staid industry. They do an amazing job of producing high quality, well thought content that really gets at the nitty gritty of what some of their customers are struggling with in their business. Even more interestingly than the substance of the content, they’ve done a great job of making it very digestible. The branding is still there. It’s clear, it’s front and center, you always recognize that it’s their stuff, but the language is very accessible and digestible. They’re good at breaking content into really snackable pieces, so sharing quick hit insights, or doing short little videos, or if they’re doing a downloadable type asset it’s not a 47 page white paper, it’s a two page quick start checklist that can lead to some deeper discussions if people are interested in longer form content. They do a really great job of pulling their potential customers through a journey supported by content, depending on where they are in that purchase cycle.
You’ll see lots of stuff that’s about brand awareness and engaging their customer base, and not just about fill out a form, give me your personally identifiable information, email addresses, social security numbers, whatever to capture “the lead”. They do a lot at the top of the funnel versus just the bottom of the funnel, so I refer to them a lot in my workshops because I think they’ve got a really good handle on how to do it right.
Carman Pirie: I can’t help but wonder how that is translating at the bottom of funnel for them. Do they know if it is or isn’t a number one I guess would be one question, and then can a brand of that size and scale perhaps afford to be a bit more patient than many others can?
Amber Naslund: I can’t speak to their results because I don’t work with them directly, so I can’t tell you how they define success or whether they’re hitting those numbers. To me, evidence that they’re probably on the right track is that they keep doing it. Hopefully somebody who’s in the driver’s seat isn’t continuing to throw good money after bad and produce things that aren’t delivering some sort of results for them.
Carman Pirie: If you’re listening to this podcast and you’re the person at EY responsible for this please get in touch and let us know.
Amber Naslund: Call and let us know. You know there’s also more than one way to define success. Lots of B2B companies think in term of demand gen or lead generation because that’s what we can easily measure. If I can count the number of leads that come through and become marketing qualified leads or sales qualified leads, that’s a pretty tangible metric and it’s harder to measure stuff that’s a little bit more qualitative, a little bit more squishy top of funnel stuff, and there’s still ways to do that. As I’m often fond of saying, measuring success and results with content marketing in itself is an investment. It requires some pretty significant infrastructure sometimes and technology to help you tag content, track content, deploying enough analytics and code on your website to be able to track people both on and off your website. I don’t think there’s only one way to define success, and it’s not necessarily always a lead play.
I find companies sometimes, who to them, a conversion is a lot more about capturing somebody on an owned list, like getting their email address is considered successful because then they have them as a captive audience. I think it behooves all of us to make sure that we’re constantly pushing our thinking around the definitions of what successful content marketing looks like, beyond just “did I get this person to enter my system as a lead”. Is there something else that I can do that’s valuable to them that also quantifies success?
Carman Pirie: It’s interesting because, of course, those metrics are more easily measured, but they’re also more readily valued by senior management and therefore more likely to help marketers capture budget.
Amber Naslund: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: And get more done. In some ways it seems awfully natural to me that people tend to try to get there if they can. Although I understand where you’re going with this and I agree with you that I think there’s some benefit to considering the other aspects of it and maybe pieces that aren’t quite as tangible. What advice would you give to marketers to how might they rethink their content performance, and do you have any advice as to how they may sell that rethinking to senior leadership that might sound a little bit suspicious?
Amber Naslund: One of the things that I am fond of citing in some of the data that we have here at LinkedIn, now granted it’s specific to some of our tools so I want to caveat that, but what’s interesting is customers in our ecosystem, people who are members on LinkedIn who are consuming and reading content. If they are only exposed to updates or posts or advertising that is focused on capturing information and lead generation type activities, they convert at a certain rate. If they are exposed to both conversion level and bottom of funnel content, as well as closer to the top of funnel kind of ambient brand awareness, more reputational content or thought leadership content or things that are more long-term thinking versus transactional thinking, those people are actually more likely to convert at many times over the rate when they eventually get to a piece of demand gen content.
The takeaway there is that 100% of your prospects and your customers go through the entire journey of not knowing you, initially hearing about you, and then gradually taking steps closer to you when they become a customer. Every single customer you’ve ever had at some point started off not knowing who you were, and making sure that we’re nurturing people with smart, useful, helpful content at every stage of the cycle, ultimately benefits that bottom line. Yes of course, marketers are in the job of helping to accelerate and amplify sales if we do it well. Not disputing that we need to show me the money, where does that come from? That money doesn’t just appear out of thin air. All of those people, at every stage of the process, are gathering information and we’re selling ourselves, and our content frankly, short if we’re only thinking about it in terms of conversion because there’s so much work we need to do in those earlier stages of the buying process that needs support and education.
I would much rather be the sales guy who gets to talk to a customer that’s consumed 15 pieces of really educational content. They’re better qualified, they’re better educated, they’re better informed, and I’m much more likely to make a sale. Versus somebody who’s only ever downloaded a white paper and immediately got a phone call. I think we’re doing our sales teams a disservice if we don’t think about delivering content from top to bottom on the funnel and not just focused on demand gen.
Carman Pirie: That’s fantastic. I really can’t help but think that there’s this curse of measurement. Basically the ability to close the loop in these analytics and to prove whether something is working or not leads people to just be a little to navel gazey and they just don’t look up and think about that broader buyer lifecycle and how that journey actually happens.
Amber Naslund: Right.
Carman Pirie: Because the measurement is just so in their face all the time. I think marketers are feeling a lot of pressure to deliver on those numbers and it’s leading to a lot of short sightedness. I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with what you just said.
Jeff White: Yes I think so too, and Amber you wrote a post, I think it was earlier this year, on LinkedIn about in terms of the sales side of things and the idea of reaching the right people at the right time. I mean you just said now it would be much better if all of your sales people only reached out after someone had consumed a dozen or more pieces of their content. Obviously not always possible to know who’s reading what and when, but the other thing you mentioned in that post was that rather than being cutesy or otherwise skirting around the issue, you should just be honest. Can you talk a bit about, especially given your position within LinkedIn which has really turned into a real sales outreach and communication platform that way, can you talk about how content can be used from a sales perspective?
Amber Naslund: I think one of the largest disconnects in many B2B organizations today is between marketing and sales. I’ve heard statistics, of course of which I’m not going to remember the source, but that as much as 80% of the content that marketing creates is never touched or used by sales. Which is heartbreaking as a marketer who is so focused on wanting to build and deliver great useful content. The sort of obvious but not obvious answer to me is I feel like we need to do a better job inside our own organizations getting marketing and sales to have conversations. Marketing, we love doing things like market research, our brand studies, our surveys, and building buyer personas and mapping customer journeys. Meanwhile, the people who are sitting with our customers every single day are our sales people, and I don’t think we tap them enough as a resource for what kind of content is going to be useful for them and how can we help remove some of the friction between them and their perspective customers to accelerate that buying process and help them answer the relevant questions or tackle the challenges that come up in their conversations really often.
I think it’s simple but not easy in that we need to better align what marketing is doing with content to what sales actually needs when they get to the point where we hand off a lead and they start to talk to that person. Can I give them content that helps them in that process, and moreover, what are we missing? When they’ve got a prospect that comes to them and they’re having an early stage sales conversation, an exploratory conversation, what questions are they being asked in that moment? Because that should inform the very top funnel early buying cycle content that we create, if we can anticipate those questions and answer them before they ever get to a conversation with a sales person, we make everybody’s job easier. The customer is smarter and better informed, we take out some of the challenges and objections that they’re going to have in the process, and we allow our sales people to step into the role of truly being advisory and consultative rather than having to educate and inform all the time.
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, conversations on manufacturing marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-A partners.com/thekularing.
Carman Pirie: So often I think that divide between marketing and sales that builds up and we see it a lot in manufacturing organizations where the people on the ground in an outside sales team think that the people back at head office in marketing have their collective heads up their asses and just don’t get it, they don’t understand the reality of it. Then they basically, when the conversations get really hostile, everything just boils down to probably price at that point and we don’t need any content from marketing, we don’t need anything from you, we just need better pricing on our product.
Jeff White: The only objection is cost.
Carman Pirie: Yes, otherwise we’ve got this nailed. That’s kind of the dimmest view of it probably, but I would say that if the folks I speak with are any indication, I feel like it’s turning a bit. There are at least enough people in the sales organization that are maybe of a younger vintage that are open to the notion of how content can help in the sales process. It’s maybe getting a little easier to find those champions in sales organizations that can help bridge that divide. I think marketers frankly need to be aware that maybe they don’t get it sometimes. Until you’ve sold something, it can be hard to truly know what that feeling is like. Saying this as somebody who’s probably more of a sales guy often than a marketer, they’re just very different disciplines.
Amber Naslund: They are and I’m always encouraging the teams that I work with to spend time with the sales people in their trenches. Shadow phone calls, go to meetings, be more customer facing. Somehow in the marketing discipline we took ourselves away from that customer facing role and I think that’s changing a little bit thanks to the digital world and marketers being so much closer to customers thanks to the internet, but I still think that it’s pretty low tech and old school but go sit with the sales guy and sit in his sales conversations so that you can hear the questions that come up. You can hear where he or she struggles in conversation or where they come up against objections that they can’t answer or handle. I think it makes us all better marketers to make sure that we’re staying in touch with the real world opportunities and challenges that our sales departments are dealing with.
It also opens lines of communication where they learn to trust that we have their best interests in mind, rather than just creating a bunch of puff pieces or fancy branding. That we’re really in the business of helping to make them better at their jobs. Sales enablement is a function that’s sort of risen in importance in B2B organizations in the last five to 10 years, and I would like to see that continue because I feel like the bridge we need is to not just use content as a marketing tool, but to use it as a sales enablement function, and very thoughtfully and carefully help our sales teams understand.
Don’t just throw them an internet site and hope that they can fend for themselves. Let’s sit down with them and map the content that we have available for them to the journey that their prospects go through and help fill the gaps when we have them. It’s a really worthwhile effort and I think going back full circle to talking all about ROI and making sure that we’re delivering results, nothing speaks more loudly than money. If our sales people come to the fray and say, “We could not have closed this deal without marketing’s help with this content,” suddenly those budgets get a lot easier to secure.
Carman Pirie: There’s no question, I think that that’s an encouraging vision for any marketer to have as they’re staring down the barrel of a hostile relationship potentially is to say what happens if you do indeed turn it around? Those organizations are often… The sales teams do carry a lot of weight and influence as you say. It’s funny, as you were speaking I was remembering to some of my early marketing gigs and I was thinking to myself, “How much would my performance there have improved had I maybe just went out and did a couple of cold calls, actually try to be a salesperson for a day and had a few doors slammed in my face or something?” I bet I would have a different view of things.
Jeff White: Humbling if nothing else.
Amber Naslund: If you think back to the early, early days of my career I was actually a professional fundraiser. My nonprofit world was raising money for nonprofits, and there’s a lot of no in there. There’s a lot of need to tell a compelling story, make a compelling case, and again this was before we called it content marketing. We were having to be real scrappy because in most nonprofits the marketing and development organizations are one in the same. Most of us didn’t have budgets for separate marketing functions. We had to get real good about creating the kinds of informative and educational and inspirational content that would propel our donors to want to make a case. There’s nothing more humbling than asking people for money and being told no. Man, marketers don’t get that a lot, but I think it would do all of us a little bit of good to try it.
Carman Pirie: I will say this, I’ve done a bit of fundraising myself so if there’s anybody listening looking for advice, my only advice is never insult somebody by only asking them for money once. If they’ve given you money once, they’ll give it to you again, you just need to ask them again. Anyway that’s not necessarily relevant of course.
Amber Naslund: That’s very true, and I also learned don’t ever underestimate somebody’s capacity to give. Don’t ask them for $50 if they really want to give you $50,000.
Carman Pirie: Yes, assume they’re loaded. Let them tell you they’re not.
Amber Naslund: Everybody likes to feel flattered that you think that they’re super rich and famous. It’s easier for them to say, “I’m sorry that’s out of my reach,” versus why did you only ask me for $100?
Carman Pirie: I really like the way this podcast has meandered. I mean we’ve delivered value to a number of nontraditional audience segments including fundraisers slash marketing teams for a not for profit. I think this is great.
Jeff White: Covering lots of the bases. Amber, I wonder in your experience with LinkedIn, what are you seeing coming up that looks really interesting?
Amber Naslund: Gosh where to start? I always think these questions are fun when it’s like hey, what’s next and what’s going to be the big new thing? I’m not going to tell you anything you probably don’t already know, but unsurprisingly video is still something that’s still very prevalent and prominent and performs really well, especially on our platform. We introduced native video last year and it has really become a staple of the ecosystem of content on LinkedIn.
People love to be able to just watch something or listen to it in the background while they’re multitasking. Video content performs really well because it’s something that feels accessible, it feels easy. That doesn’t mean necessarily high production quality, we see incredible success with some very scrappy content creators who are doing selfie videos on their phone or people hanging out in their cars with little thought snippets. The head of our marketing solutions division, Henry Price, he does walking to work videos in New York City while he’s walking and these little thought starter things. Video’s not going anywhere and I know we’ve been beating that drum for a long time, but Cisco’s predicted that by next year over 80% of web traffic is going to go to video content. If you’ve been paying attention to what you see in the news, Netflix now captures 15% of all internet traffic, which is crazy, but it tells you that there’s a real appetite for that multimedia content.
I often hear the fallacy of people have no attention spans or they have the attention spans of goldfish and there could not be less accuracy in that statement because anybody who’s binge watched a Netflix show over the weekend, we have plenty of attention to give. The issue is that we have to earn what is a finite resource for people. Things like video or even podcasting like this, multimedia content that serves a lot of different tastes, is not going anywhere anytime soon. I’m always encouraging companies to think about more than just text media when they think about their content strategy.
Carman Pirie: My guess is that’s a pretty good example of higher, more up funnel content that you’re seeing perform well in tandem with something more conversion focused in down funnel.
Amber Naslund: Yes correct, so video’s a great top of funnel tactic and often times if you’re an SEO person it’s probably not a big link builder, but it’s a great traffic builder. It’s a great way to spread messages far and wide, capture new eyeballs, get more acquainted with people. The term I use a lot is creating magnetic content, and what I mean by that is content that draws people in and invites them to take a step closer in their relationship with you rather than just catching them in your tractor beam of lead generation and then pummeling them with email marketing until they relent. Maybe-
Jeff White: That sounds all right.
Carman Pirie: It sounds dirty when you put it that way.
Jeff White: Yes I know. It doesn’t have to be all bad.
Amber Naslund: No, it doesn’t have to be all bad but it is something that I think we can learn from. I’m super bullish about email marketing. I think it has a really strong place in B2B marketing, but the more content that we can create that is inviting and interesting and draws people and invites them in, rather than handcuffs them to our email list, the better. Because then when people opt in they’re for real in and they want to be there and they’re present rather then begrudgingly giving over their email address because all they wanted was the research report and then you find bounce rates and opt outs at a much higher rate than you would if you were more mindful about creating early funnel stuff that is engaging and interesting.
Jeff White: Interesting, so would you almost say that content… Going back to our initial point that content marketing isn’t dead but potentially inbound gated content might be?
Amber Naslund: Yes, or I think it’s at least worth a revisit. LinkedIn itself has been doing some pretty thoughtful rearranging of even the content that our marketing teams gate or don’t gate, and I’m seeing quite a movement toward companies who’ve historically gated everything because it felt like the way to capture data and therefore prove that what we were doing was working. I’m seeing a resurgence of ungated content and the case for creating less friction at the earlier stages of somebody’s relationship with you so that you’re inviting them to consume content no strings attached, so that by the time they do get to something that’s more opt in related they’re feeling very good about that relationship rather than feeling a little bit nervous about handing over something like their email address.
Carman Pirie: I’m just going to say it though. I mean what I’ve seen in tandem with that is people saying, “Okay, we’re going to un-gate our content, but then we’re going to litter our site with annoying chatbots that pop up every five seconds and try to convert you that way.” If I could put a bullet in every one of those damn chatbots that just annoy that experience. Maybe this is a personal problem and I’m the only one, but you see what I mean? I don’t know, I do think there’s some wisdom in not just taking a five year ago approach to how you gate content and being smarter about it. I just hope that not everybody thinks that that’s just a way to allow you to put these other annoyances out there.
Amber Naslund: Well I think chatbots are going through that early romanticism that maybe social media did back in 2007 or 2008. You might remember companies who had their Twitter feed right on their home page because that was the cool thing to do.
Jeff White: I think I wrote a few of those websites.
Amber Naslund: Yes, so I think that’s actually sort of the danger of focusing too much on what’s new, what’s next, what’s trendy? Because frankly in the B2B space I think we have a lot of work to do to do a good job with the tools we already have rather than trying to jump all over the latest and greatest thing in the quest to be ever so innovative. To your point, something that feels innovative to a marketer can feel really invasive and annoying to a customer. Threading that needle and making sure that you’ve got a real good sense of what your customers do and don’t want and not just jumping on the shiny object because somebody in Wired magazine said chatbots are the future.
Carman Pirie: I don’t know if you timed that little intrusion ding or not to be right in keeping with your point on interruption.
Jeff White: But it was perfect.
Carman Pirie: But I think we need to leave it there. It’s not going to get any better than that and we need to George Costanza this and end on a high note.
Amber Naslund: Yes and I thought I had totally turned off all the things that were dinging at me.
Jeff White: It’s impossible, you can’t turn them off. There’s too many.
Amber Naslund: There are too many and it’s so easy to forget that… God you have multiple tabs or applications open or you forget to silence your phone and then you’re like, “What is dinging at me? I turned it all off.” No I didn’t.
Carman Pirie: Amber, it’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you today. Thanks so much for taking the time. Wish you the best of luck in your role at LinkedIn. It’s been great to get your insight today, thank you.
Amber Naslund: Thank you so much guys. It’s been a really fun conversation, I appreciate it.
Carman Pirie: Chat soon and you’re welcome to Canada anytime.
Jeff White: I didn’t hear a single “eh” though and I don’t think we got them in there.
Carman Pirie: We’ll put those in in post.
Jeff White: Yes and we’ll add them in in post.
Amber Naslund: I’ll try harder next time.
Jeff White: Please do, thank you.
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