Joe Lazauskas is the head of content strategy at Contently and the co-author of a best-selling book, The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming Into the Void, and Make People Love You. He’s also the Executive Editor of The Content Strategist, winner of the Digiday Award for Best Brand Publication. A technology and marketing journalist, Joe is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for Mashable, Digiday, and Forbes, and many other publications.
Joe, thanks so much for agreeing to take my questions, I’ve been looking to pick your brains for some time now! Let’s get started at the deep end.
- There is so much talk about how B2B brands should do media, become publishers, acquire an audience and take control of their own messaging and user journey. Do you get this sort of interest from your B2B clients and do you look to evangelize the benefits of media vehicles for their content strategy?
Yes! A majority of our customers are B2B companies breaking into content. Award-winning companies like Dell Technologies, Braintree, and General Electric come to us with the same question: “How do we share our perspective on all the specialized stuff our brand addresses? How do we make our expertise marketable?”
Actually, B2B companies have an advantage when they start producing content, though they don’t always realize it at first. Their company leaders are experts in their fields, which means they’re bottomless mines of great perspectives about how to tackle the biggest issues in their industry, and where the market s headed.
At the peak of the pyramid is content that people actually give a crap about— high-interest fields that gets a lot of attention: content analyzing sports, hobbies and interests, high value items, occupations.
In other words, people are only interested in content about two things: stuff that’ll make them better at their job, and stuff that’ll help them enjoy their lives more. If your content doesn’t do that, you’re failing.
- Why should CMO’s look at a long-term investment like a media play – also given that the venture may bear fruit only after the incumbent CMO’s tenure with the organisation? What are the biggest benefits?
That’s definitely a valid concern, but the way I see it, a new CMO has two options. Either they push all of their chips in on audience-centric content marketing—which can transform a brand’s relationships with consumers in the long run, even if it has unpredictable impact on revenue in the first 12 months of implementation, or they bet it on direct response advertising and lead-gen tactics. The latter is going to yield predictable but comparatively mediocre results.
I can’t exactly blame a CMO for choosing the safer option, but it’s one that brings a very low ceiling for the business their serving and their careers.
Smart CMOs should work to building a coalition to support content marketing in the C-suite. Content is a long-term play that can transform the way the world sees a brand. That should make it inherently appealing to CEOs, who traditionally have longer tenures and are more open to a long-term vision.
If you look at all the big names in content marketing—Marriott, Amex, GE, Red Bull, Mint, SoFi—were able to pull off incredible work because the C-suite supported the mission. And it paid off.
- What do they (CMO’s/clients) perceive as the top challenges of a media content play? Cost of setting up the editorial operations, quality of content, vision and roadmap? Or does the need for short term lead gen and ROI get in the way?
It’s definitely the need for short-term ROI. A CMO gets hired to fix a problem. The two easiest avenues to short-term ROI are to cut costs and to pump money into predictable direct response programs.
Setting up a large-scale content program can feel daunting. Especially when you start off with an assumption of “I’m gonna have to hire five people to do this.” A lot of what we’ve done at Contently mirrors the Hollywood model that’s being seen as the future of work.
Essentially, we task you with the specialists you need at each stage in your content program—whether that’s content strategists, editors, videographers, journalists, etc.—and allow you to only use those people on projects when you need them, instead of having them on your full-time payroll. And our technology is built to enable all of those people to work together really easily.
CMOs are really receptive to this, because we can easily provide specialists that serve as extensions of their team and handle the really difficult, specialized work, from creating a content strategy and road-map to actually executing a complex content series.
- I see a lot of B2C brands actively pursuing this strategy, and with a lot of creativity! Do you feel it’s a matter of time before it all sort of moves into the B2B space?
B2B brands and B2C brands are always going to need a distinct approach, mostly because their marketing and sales cycles are so different. Content marketing shouldn’t be viewed as some isolated activity—really, the idea is that great content should be a part of every touch-point that you have with your customers. And those touch-points are different, depending on whether you’re B2B or B2C.
One of the fun parts about working on B2C content programs is that it’s so much easier to track content’s direct impact on revenue. I wrote about how Marriott does this just a couple of weeks ago.
- Which B2B brands do you think are really hitting the bullseye with their content efforts – and these may or may not be a fully-fledged media play?
There are too many to count, but I’ll give you a few of my favorites in a bulleted list:
- Dell Perspectives. Fascinating, futurist tech site that won the Digiday Award for Best B2B Brand Pub this year. And they just launched in September! You can check out a webinar on how they built their program here.
- GE Reports. My brand blog crush. An amazing program that reports on the awesome innovations inside the company. They regularly go viral on Reddit, which is just wild for a brand blog. Check out more about them here.
- Newswhip and Parse.ly. Both of these tech cos publish great data-backed reports on Facebook and social media trends. They’re an invaluable source for media reporters like me.
- Joe, with Google going all in with voice assistants and with chatbots popping up on every site, what do you think the future holds for brands that are publishers or that are contemplating jumping into the fray? Will a branded content model such as Adobe’s CMO.com still make sense? Will it have to morph into something else? Will long form journalism and content survive a world that is increasingly low on attention?
Honestly, voice content is still super limited. There only a few B2B cases that are even applicable—Digiday’s daily update on Alexa is one example.
The data shows that most B2B research still happens on laptops and phones, and the audience these companies want ingests content by reading it or watching videos. I’d say B2B marketers need to master those fundamentals first, before they stretch into new formats.
- Finally, Joe, who is your marketing hero, the one person you look up to for inspiration?
Shane Snow—our co-founder, my co-author, writing partner, and one of my best friends. (Although he’d kind of hate to be called a marketer). No one’s impacted my life more or pushed me harder. If you want the whole backstory, you can read it here.