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Content’s Competitive Advantage: Interview with Ann Handley

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Do you enjoy hearing how others are leveraging content marketing?  How about experts? Are you interested in learning from their industry knowledge and insights?

Sometimes hearing what an expert has to say about a subject is an excellent opportunity to improve your content marketing strategy.

I sat down (on Skype) with Ann Handley, CCO of MarketingProfs, co-author of Content Rules, and a key speaker at the upcoming Content Marketing World conference.

Ann spoke very persuasively on a variety of topics surrounding content marketing, MarketingProfs, and her new book.

Listen to the podcast

Download the full transcript

Content types and contributors

Q. MarketingProfs is one of the leading blogs in the industry. What type of content are you publishing on that platform?

A. We publish a daily newsletter of which the MarketingProfs DailyFix blog is a component. We also have daily how-to articles on our website, weekly webinars, a monthly virtual conference, live events, Take-10 mini-podcasts, and seminars. It’s always nice to hear which of these really resonate with people.

Q. A lot of outside people are writing for MarketingProfs. How do you select contributing writers for your platform? What are you looking for?

A. It’s a combination of things. Sometimes our readers will approach us and say, “I’m a reader of your blog and I’d love to write for you,” and they’ll submit an article.

Other times it’s someone who comments a lot on our articles and blog posts who will stand out. If they care enough to be a regular reader and to comment on our articles, then I think that they probably do have something interesting to say. So we’ll approach our frequent visitors as well.

I also do something called social prospecting where I go to social sites, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Focus or Quora, and I look to see who is interesting and who has a different take on things. Then I’ll approach that person and ask them if they’re interested in writing for us. MarketingProfs is a huge platform, and my hope is to give our contributors the exposure that we’re able to offer.

Finding time to create content

Q. You produce a ton of content yourself whether it’s the book you just published, Content Rules, or the blog articles you write on Huffington Post, Mashable, OPEN Forum, MarketingProfs, Entrepreneur, and many other platforms. How do you find time to fit it all in, and what can businesses learn from this?

A. I think of it in the same way that I advise companies. Content is the cornerstone of your marketing. Maybe it’s easier for someone like me who is a writer and an editor at heart, but any business has to find a way to produce content.

That might mean that you hire someone to do it for you, or a chief content officer to take charge of it or just figure out what platform works for you (e.g. video or a podcast like this one). But it’s imperative that all businesses create their own content.

I personally write a lot during the weekends.

Personal stories and corporate content

Q. How should we use personal stories in content marketing?

A. I’m a big believer in using stories to engage, but I also make the distinction between personal and personable content.

On a personal blog, you can bare your soul and “tell all” like I do on my blog, Annarchy. But with corporations and content marketing, it’s about delivering personable content. It’s about giving your products or services a pulse and talking about the stuff that makes your product real to people so that they can relate to it.

Companies can also tell the stories of their customers.

They can talk about how their product has helped customers to (as we say in the book) run faster, jump higher, or ease their pain. The companies that are embracing that are ultimately the ones that are succeeding in content marketing.

Content’s competitive advantage

Q. In your book, Content Rules, you say that content marketing gives business owners a competitive advantage. Explain what that means.

A. First, it’s important to think of content not as a task or a burden, (which a lot of business owners who are not publishers tend to do) but rather to see it as an opportunity to connect with your customers.

In the book, we tell the story of Marcus Sheridan who is the CEO of River Pools — a swimming pool company in Virginia. Marcus sees himself not just as a swimming pool retailer, but also as a resource for anyone who’s thinking about spending thousands of dollars on an in-ground pool.

He creates content that helps prospects at all stages of the buying cycle. His goal was to grow his email list so as to engage his prospects on a regular basis.

He has achieved that goal and is successfully marketing to the people on his list or getting referrals from them. This approach has made a huge difference for his company, allowing it to expand at a time when people haven’t had much discretionary income to spend on swimming pools

Content marketing success

Q. A lot of business that are new to content marketing might not know what content marketing success looks like? Can you help them to visualize it so that they know what to look for?

A.  Well first before they do anything, they must ask themselves “Why are we doing this and what is our goal?”

Fundamentally, the way to measure success is to define your goals first. Some goals could be to make more money, to generate business leads, to grow an email list, and so on. If you just start a blog and start posting without measuring anything or creating a path to conversion, then it will probably fail.

But if you can answer the why question, then you’ll be able to see what success looks like down the road.

Article marketing

Q. Nica Mandigma on Facebook asks, “What are your thoughts on article marketing? Is it still relevant considering the recent Google Panda updates?”

A. Even before Google Panda, I was never a fan of  “broadcasting article marketing.”  And I say this as a traditional publisher who has been providing information to audiences for a really long time.

The problem with article marketing is that it’s not targeted to a specific audience and it’s not personal — it’s just articles that are broadcasted to a bunch of B2B marketing publications.

A better approach is to write relevant articles in specific publications like MarketingProfs. A lot of people want to write for MarketingProfs because they see the value in that. These are people who have built a relationship with me or another editor here, and that’s really the key — to be specific about your channel and what’s going to work for you.

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16 Tools to Turbo Boost Your Blogging Process

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Do you blog regularly?

Are you looking for tools to make the process easier?

Blogging is hard work and it takes a lot of time to do it well. Wouldn’t it be great if you could streamline parts of that process?

In this article, you’ll find a list of tools, apps and advice you can use to find your groove and take care of blogging business.

#1: Brainstorm Blogging Ideas

When you need inspiration for your next blog post, where do you go? You can avoid blogger’s block by trying out these idea-generators to quickly get your creative juices flowing.

How to Use Quora to Cook Up Great Content: Adrienne Erin writes a pretty inspiring post about scanning Quora to find popular conversations and using those topics to create blog content.

Don’t Know What to Write About? Get Ideas From the Blog Topic Generator [Free Tool]: Ginny Soskey introduces HubSpot’s handy new topic generator. You simply put in three terms (nouns) you’d like to blog about and the tool spits out several topics. Of course, the topics aren’t always 100% perfect, but you can tweak them to make them work for you.

Let HubSpot help you find a topic to write about.

Need a Google Alerts Replacement? Meet TalkWalker: Since the future of Google Alerts is unknown, this alternative tool, suggested by Gary Price, might do the trick.

SearchEngineLand.com shares Google Alert alternatives.

#2: Get Organized to Be Productive

You have ideas, but now what? Keep track of them and organize your thoughts with cool online tools you can access from anywhere. Check out these resources that help you manage your ideas so you can make the most of your time.

How to Use Evernote as a Blogger: Michael Hyatt kills it in this timeless post where he shares his personal workflow using Evernote. His suggestion for setting up a blog template in Evernote is definitely worth the click.

MichaelHyatt.com walks you through using Evernote.

15 Tips & Tricks to Get More Out of Google Drive: If you’re not using Google Drive, you’ll be surprised how much you can get out of it! Brian Voo’s article introduces some cool ways to use Google Drive to do everything from mind-mapping to editing images.

How to Use Google Calendar to Create an Editorial Calendar: The best way to keep track of your ideas is an editorial calendar. Some people use spreadsheets, others use pen and paper. Rebecca Livermore explains why you should switch to Google Calendar and even gives you a step-by-step guide for getting started.

Learn to use Google Calendar as an editorial tool on AmyPorterfield.com.

#3: Optimize Your Content

Keywords not only help readers find you, they can also help you flesh out your post ideas. If you don’t know much about SEO (and really, even if you do), check out these posts that give you tips and advice about tools that can get you started.

Google Keyword Planner: The Ultimate Guide: Ask Ian Cleary any question about social media tools and he’ll write you an “Ultimate Guide.” So if you’re wondering about the ultimate tool for keyword research, look no further than his outstanding post about Google’s Keyword Planner.

Find out how to use Google’s Keyword Planner from RazorSocial.com.

Get SEO Tips When You Need Them: For novice bloggers who aren’t sure how SEO works, Matthew Tschoegl does a great job introducing InboundWriter’s WordPress plugin. It’s basically a “consultant on your dashboard.” It’s a paid plugin, but definitely check it out to see if it’s a fit for you.

The Beginner’s Guide to SEO: Moz is the SEO site. Their guide has been downloaded over a million times! That’s a good sign that it’s info you need. Even seasoned bloggers will learn a thing or two.

There’s a great SEO walkthrough on Moz.com.

#4: Find or Make Your Own Images (Fast!)

You know how important compelling images are for your blog, but it’s not always easy or cheap to find them. These articles show you how to find copyright-free images or make stunning graphics of your own!

How and Why I Use Photo Pin to Find Free Images for My Blog: John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing explains why he stopped using iStockphoto, Shutterstock and other image sites and started using Photo Pin. Be careful—you might be persuaded to change your mind too!

DuctTapeMarketing.com shares an image finding option.

Tool for Screenshots: Awesome Screenshot: If you’re still trying to capture screenshots using Command-Shift-3 or -4, stop! There’s a better way. Check out this simple demonstration by Amy Lynn Andrews.

How to Make a Banner for Your Blog Using Gimp (for free!): If you’ve ever wondered how to make cool banners and incorporate them into your blog post, this article by Karen Lewis of Simply Amusing Designs illustrates (complete with screenshots) how it’s done. Give it a try—it’s not difficult at all. [NOTE: This site is in construction until 2/28/14. Check the link next week.]

Creating a Header Image for Your BlogPicMonkey is an awesome free site (with a premium subscription option) to create and edit photos for your blog. Julie DeNeen, from Fabulous Blogging, also offers more advanced tips in her post, 10 Design Tips Using PicMonkey That You Might Not Know About!

Learn how to use PicMonkey over on FabulousBlogging.com.

#5: Tell the World

After all of the hard work of writing and optimizing your blog post, you’d better make sure everyone in your network sees it and shares it with their friends too. Here are some nifty tools and guides to help your blog post go that extra mile.

5 Social Sharing Plugins Reviewed: Dan Norris lays it all out with “what we like” and “what we don’t like” about five popular sharing plugins. Now you’ll know what to expect before jumping in.

Explore some great plugins on WPCurve.com.

Need a New Tool? 3 Social Sharing Tools That Do Something Specific: I like how Amanda DiSilvestro emphasizes the “do something specific” aspect of these tools. Indeed, these three tools are so specific you’ve probably never heard of them, but you should definitely give them a whirl.

Moz.com shares sharing tools.

The Essential Guide to Content Sharing: Yes, another Ian Cleary article (because he’s the tool guru, remember?). This time Ian’s “Ultimate Guide” includes 13 tools you can use to get the word out about new posts. Some of the tools you’ve seen, some you haven’t and some you should probably use more. Definitely check this one out.

What do you think? Which of these tools have you tried? Please share your experience in the comment box below.

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Borrowed Relevance: How to Engage Your Audience When You Have a Boring Brand

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“There are two kinds of brands – brands that people talk about and brands that people don’t talk about.” ~ Josh Bernoff, Forrester Research Analyst and co-author of Groundswell.

Sexy brands (Apple, Facebook, and Harley Davidson) are ‘talked about’ brands – they sell themselves. Boring brands are tough because people don’t care about them. Marketers of such brands have to figure out how to get people talking about something they really don’t care about.

Is there a way around this?

The answer is “Yes!’ Borrowed relevance is a fairly new concept proposed by Josh Bernoff, in which he suggests that boring brands must encourage people to talk about something – even though the conversation is not about the brand itself.

There are several ways to do this:

  • One way is to identify your organization’s core values and then start a conversation about them. Those values might be community, work-life balance, diversity or empowerment. Liberty Mutual (from the boring category of insurance) launched the Responsibility Project as “the place to discuss doing the right thing.” By creating a platform where moral decision-making was the trending topic , Liberty Mutual shrouded themselves in relevance and (more importantly) social conversation.
  • Another way is to invite your community to talk about their own set of circumstances. Johnson & Johnson for example created a Facebook page for mothers with ADHD kids. They figured that they couldn’t spark an engaging conversation about their ADHD drug. But they correctly concluded that sufferers of the ailment (and their families) have their own set of interesting problems and why not talk about that? Their Facebook audience is a whopping 19,000 fans strong!
  • The other way that ‘borrowed relevance’ could be applied is to start a conversation about an entirely different brand with the intention of ‘borrowing’ some of their appeal for yourself. In 2007 Doritos invited customers to create their own Superbowl ads –  Turns out, that Superbowl (or any ad contest for that matter) are more exciting concepts than corn chips.

So if you’re a business that’s selling a product that doesn’t generate much interest, then the key is to borrow something that is relevant to people (topic, issue or concept), create a platform to discuss it while treading lightly on your own branding. This way, you will be able to identify your own (few) brand enthusiasts who will become very influential in spreading the word about your organization.

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9 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Content Marketing Consultant

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Hiring the right content marketing consultant is a significant business decision. Ideally you want someone with whom you will enjoy a great working relationship, but you also want to make sure that the person has experience, vision and business knowledge.

Here are 9 questions to ask yourself when vetting your potential hire.

#1. How much content marketing experience do they have?

To be a consultant of anything, you need a set amount of experience. But with content marketing, the concept, the talent, and the technology are all new (even though the practice of telling stories to promote a business is not).

If you consider that veteran content marketers have been at it for about 10 to 12 years now, that means the majority of consultants have much, much less than that. It’s important to keep this in mind as you decide whether you will hire based on experience.

#2. Do they understand the basics of content marketing?

Even more important than experience (I think) is the understanding of what content marketing is. Most organizations are still confused by the term, so it is even more important that the consultant is able to educate authoritatively on this subject. For instance they should know the difference between content marketing and social media, or similar subjects such as inbound marketing, and digital marketing.

#3. Do they understand the business value of content marketing?

Your potential consultant should also understand that content marketing is business marketing. She should be able to connect the dots between the creation and distribution of relevant content with the achievement of tangible business goals such as customer acquisition and retention, increased sales, reduced marketing costs and even operational efficiencies.

#4. What type of content marketing campaigns have they initiated in the past?

You want to see what kind of content marketing projects your potential consultant has done in the past so that you can evaluate her effectiveness as a professional. Her portfolio is a good indicator of where her core strengths lie and whether her past experience is a good match for your organization’s needs.

#5. How much do they value measurement of content marketing strategy?

The old adage ‘what can’t be measured, can’t be managed’ rings true for content marketing as well. A consultant who neglects measurement tactics cannot be trusted to steer you in the right direction. Find out what methods she has employed in the past for measuring content marketing and watch out for ambiguous answers as these spell major weaknesses in her strategy.

#6. Does their personality match your needs?

People do business with those they know, like and trust. Spend some time getting to know your potential consultant and dig deeper by asking questions that reveal her personality. Ask her how she would handle specific situations. Remember that a consultant is responsible for guiding your business. Be sure that you choose someone you can trust, respect and generally feel comfortable with.

#7. Do you have a common connection or referral?

How did you connect with your potential hire? It’s a wise idea to choose someone who has been recommended by a friend or peer. This way you can find out more information from the one who referred her, and cross-check the information that she has given you about herself.

#8. Do they use content marketing themselves?

The seller has to believe in the product they are selling. So when choosing a content marketing consultant, be sure to check that she is practicing content marketing herself. Does she have a consistent blog, does she send out a regular newsletter, does she use social media, what kind of online communities does she belong to? Remember, consultants are business owners too and they should practice what they preach.

#9. What’s your gut feeling?

After all is said and done, what is your gut feeling about this person? Does she make you feel uncomfortable? Do you trust her? If something doesn’t feel right, your best bet is to ditch her and start over. Trust your intuition to guide your decision and try not to second-guess yourself.

Over to you: I feel like I’ve missed something. What other questions would you add to this list?

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