When “content marketing” is mentioned, Brian Clark’s name is never far behind. The creator of the immensely popular site Copyblogger, Brian has helped countless thousands learn how to create content that builds their businesses. Eric Enge had the opportunity to ask Brian to share what he would want those just starting out in content marketing to know.
Here is a summary of Brian’s main takeaways. The full interview starts just after these points.
- People are looking for information first, more than they’re looking for traditional sales messages. The sales experience has to begin with information, which is content. [Tweet this!]
- Content is not a fad. It is a way to attract attention and build a loyal following that turns into actual revenue, profit, growth, and a customer base. [Tweet this!]
- To really make a difference with your content, you must focus on positioning. [Tweet this!]
- Come up with a content strategy that’s related to what you sell and makes you into a likable expert. You have to be interesting enough to take the same old boring content, make it compelling, give people reassurance that you’re the right source and overcome objections. [Tweet this!]
- Copyblogger has always relied on the quality of their content to produce links. It was always social media first, links second and search rankings would result because of this. [Tweet this!]
- Content is becoming a major part of Fortune 500 companies, where you can start to see the emergence of roles such as Chief Content Officer. This shows that big companies are taking this seriously. [Tweet this!]
- Many small businesses recognize the value of content marketing. The challenge has become implementing the strategy and managing the day-to-day tasks associated with content production.
- Copyblogger runs as a software company, but also as a media company. On the media side, they are run similar to an online magazine, with editors, journalists, and strict publishing standards. This editorial side of the company serves as their sole marketing function.
- You always have to stay relevant to and in tune with the audience, which means you’re constantly doing research. [Tweet this!]
Full Interview Transcript
Eric Enge: Brian, can you provide a little background on CopyBlogger?
Brian Clark: Copyblogger Media is a software company that provides web-publishing software.
We started as a blog almost seven years ago, in January 2006. I built an audience talking about the very things I was doing to build that audience, and it evolved into a software company over the years. We now have 90,000 customers thanks to the 170,000 subscribers in our audience that allowed us to build our customer base.
Eric Enge: If you were advising an existing business that was trying to establish a strong, secure, long-term place on the web, in a world where the nature of search engines and social media are constantly changing, what advice would you give?
Brian Clark: It’s interesting because, before Copyblogger, I used the same online marketing techniques to build a couple of real estate brokerages, which is a very traditional business.
… people are looking for information first, more than they’re looking for traditional sales messages.
The basic idea is that people are looking for information first, more than they’re looking for traditional sales messages. The sales experience has to begin with information, which is content. However, it can’t just be content, which is the reason we have this incredibly sexy term called “content marketing.”
Content that works in marketing is not the same as content that fills up a page. You’re actually beginning the sales experience in a way that the consumer is comfortable with, as opposed to advertising, which is something that most people do not desire at all. Content marketing is actually more effective, more persuasive, and better at actually engaging in the sales experience than other methods because it doesn’t come out and jump in your face. It’s educating people enough to do business with you.
Eric Enge: It recognizes the way the world has changed, that the customer needs to be in control.
Brian Clark: Well, they are in control. That’s both the problem and the opportunity.
I think it’s always been an illusion to some degree that the businesses were in control. The early days of mass media and Madison Avenue level advertising really did put the ball in the court of the businesses and advertisers. I think we’re going to look back at that and say that was a weird blip in history. It wasn’t like that before mass media, and it’s certainly not like that with social media.
Content is not a fad. It’s not going to go away. People want information to guide their purchasing decisions. That is the way it’s always going to work.
Content is not a fad. It’s not going to go away. People want information to guide their purchasing decisions. That is the way it’s always going to work.
It’s very early, but people are starting to realize that content is the way to begin the sales experience. It is the way to attract attention and build the loyal following that turns into actual profit, growth, revenue, and a customer base.
Eric Enge: So, for example, in the mortgage space you might have a page with tips for filling out a mortgage application. Although you need that content on your site, it isn’t going to gain you any market visibility because there are already thousands of them on the web.
Brian Clark: That’s a great example. To really make the difference, you need to focus on positioning.
Positioning, USP, and all those types of things are very traditional marketing and advertising concepts, but there’s a different way of thinking about it. If you are a mortgage broker you want to attract an audience that leads to a steady amount of new leads for your business as well as word of mouth referrals, all that good stuff. Everybody has the standard tips on their sites, and a lot of that stuff is syndicated and suffers from being duplicate content. When I started in real estate, I knew that type of canned content wouldn’t work. I understood that for SEO, even back then, you had to have unique content.
Now it’s not just that the content has to be unique but the positioning of the content has to be unique. Number one is the personality of the author. For example, Google is now looking more at authorship as a ranking mechanism. Author Rank is the new thing everyone’s talking about, which means that who creates the content matters now, too. There’s even more incentive for professionals or brands to either develop a thought leadership role with an author who’s a principal, or actually build a media arm of the company.
Procter & Gamble invented the soap opera, originally for radio. They did that themselves, Procter & Gamble Productions. I love to use that example because they really did spin off a media arm of their company that had a marketing purpose. It’s one of the earliest examples of content marketing.
You’ve got to be interesting enough to take the same old boring content, make it compelling, give people reassurance that you’re the right source and overcome objections.
The whole point I’m trying to make is that you have to come up with a content strategy with content that’s related to what you sell, makes you into a likable expert, a likable author, that Google’s going to give additional weight to. You’ve got to be interesting enough to take the same old boring content, make it compelling, give people reassurance that you’re the right source and overcome objections. These are all classic copyrighting techniques, but they work so great with content. You really do have to think like you’re starting a media brand or a media publication.
Eric Enge: You used another interesting word there too, which is this notion of brand building. In a recent interview that I did with Matt Cutts, I asked, “Matt, when people refer to the concept of link building, they’re already off on the wrong foot, aren’t they?”
Matt came back and he agreed with me. When you use that type of artificial term it segments you into a mindset which is going to show lots of temptations for things which aren’t brand building in nature. When you look at content marketing, when you’re trying to get the word out, you very naturally want to focus your energy on things which are brand building in nature.
Brian Clark: Exactly. I’ve got two points I’d like to address that with from our own history.
Very early on, when I started Copyblogger in 2006, there was really no concept of guest blogging, which sounds odd given how prevalent it is today. Nowadays everyone wants to write for everyone else because this is the way to get organic, natural links. That is effectively link building in a way that also builds brand.
I was one of the first people to start accepting outside writers at the time, which went against the tide, because back then it was always about the blogger and their personal brand. I very early on wanted the brand to be Copyblogger, not Brian Clark. I tried as hard as I could to put the spotlight on other people and other voices, but with a congruent editorial focus that built Copyblogger into a trusted brand. That’s effectively what we’ve done.
The other thing I’d like to point about link building is that writing is hard, but link building is not that easy either. As a person who started online because I wanted to write, I would not have enjoyed building links in the traditional SEO sense. It was always going to be content for me.
The great thing was at that time, at the early advent of the term “link baiting,” (back when it had a different connotation than aggression or controversy), it was just high-value content that attracted links naturally. I was (along with some other bloggers and forward thinking SEOs) just trying to make the Digg homepage and Delicious Popular. Yes, you have to promote your content, but we were literally trying to out-value each other.
We were trying to deliver more value to our intended audience than the other guy in order to get (what was then) social media exposure.
Think about that. We were trying to deliver more value to our intended audience than the other guy in order to get (what was then) social media exposure. Why? For the direct traffic? Yes, TechCrunch was built off of Digg. But also the links.
The bloggers would go to the homepage of both sources, find out what was going on and then blog about it. That’s how you got links. It was always social media first, links second and search rankings resulted. That’s the way Copyblogger was built, and therefore Panda, Penguin, none of this stuff has affected us. Our search traffic is growing at an incredible rate, because I never took shortcuts, but only because I’m not wired to be a “link builder” other than by natural attraction with content.
Google has followed through on their promise, which I always took to heart, which is that they will get smarter, they will find the spammers, they will find the low-quality content, and they will get rid of it. I think that’s what we’re seeing with Panda and Penguin. If you think it’s over from the Google side, I think you’re underestimating the brain power at Google.
Eric Enge: Right. Panda and Penguin need to be thought of as a platform against which a wide variety of new algorithms will emerge.
I also see some of the same phenomenon in social media, where people are going out and building large social media followings, but it’s artificial. On Twitter, it may be that they have 80,000 followers, but they’re following 80,000 people. Or they are buying these kinds of things, where the audience they’ve built doesn’t have meaning. I think we see some of the same erroneous thinking in that arena as well. Would you agree with that?
…we love our Twitter following because they spread our content to people who’ve never heard of us, every day. That’s beautiful word-of-mouth marketing right there.
Brian Clark: Yes, and again, there was a lot of that reciprocity. I think something like the sock puppet accounts and things like that do provide social proof to the unwary potential follower. But if there’s nothing interesting being produced, there’s not going to be any content distribution, which is what I like to think of social networks as really being built for. Yes, they’re for conversation and interaction and personality and all that great stuff, but at the end of the day, we love our Twitter following because they spread our content to people who’ve never heard of us, every day. That’s beautiful word-of-mouth marketing right there.
Eric Enge: Right, and in terms of link building, if you have a good social media following and you push your content out to that audience, links magically appear.
Brian Clark: That’s what has replaced Digg and Delicious Popular. Reddit’s still around, but for the most part, if I were starting out today, I wouldn’t start out with the content immediately. I’d be working on building up followings where my intended audience hangs out. You’ve got to do research to figure that out. Is it LinkedIn? Is it Facebook along with most of the planet? Or is it Twitter? That’s where you have to make some strategic decisions.
Eric Enge: Indeed. Let’s shift gears a little bit. I want to start advising the readers on how to get started. It sounds hard. What are the first few steps somebody should take to begin heading down this path?
Brian Clark: It’s mindset, Eric, I think is where you have to start. If you’re a small business and you run the shop, instead of hiring marketers or buying advertising, you need to budget for freelance writers. You have to think like a producer instead of a typical small business owner, at least when it comes to getting marketing going. I think this is the biggest challenge, because for people who get content marketing, I think they can make the leap and say “Okay, we either need to reposition ourselves as a media-focused company that builds an audience, or I need to carve out something either using an agency or freelancers or something separate that can build this website and this audience for me, in line with my own business objectives.”
Eric Enge: When you think about building a team to generate the content, the expertise in whatever topic area you’re covering really has to be there. It seems to me that freelancers can play a role, but somebody who knows the business and has some real value add to put into it seems critical.
Brian Clark: I think you’re absolutely right. You’re going to need someone inside the company.
At the Fortune 500 level you’re starting to see the emergence of the Chief Content Officer… That shows that the big companies are taking it seriously.
At the Fortune 500 level, you’re starting to see the emergence of the Chief Content Officer. That’s a real job now. That shows that the big companies are taking it seriously. They may be muddling about a bit at the content creation level, but I’m seeing more and more examples of people who are getting it.
I think the challenge at the small business level is that you have an entrepreneur or owner who gets it, and they take it to heart that they need to reinvent themselves media first instead of advertising first. Then, however, you have to get into the day-to-day tasks.
Let me give you an example of how we work (of course, we’re not a fair example because we started this way. That was the entire premise of the site and the business).
We’re a software company, but we’re also a media company. We have the software and operations side of the company, and we have what we call “editorial.” We don’t really have a marketing side, because we bake marketing into everything we do.
We consider ourselves a marketing focused organization as a whole. We try to bake marketing into the things we build by satisfying existing market desire and demands. Seth Godin is big on talking about how marketing begins before you even create the product, and I agree with that. Let’s pretend that side of the company is the existing small business. Then on the other side is editorial, where our main focus is creating content. I’m at the top of both of these sides of the company, but let’s pretend I’m not there. Just look at editorial.
We have Sonia Simone, who’s our CMO. She’s really a content person. She’s an education and content marketing person. That’s what she does. She runs the editorial side of the company.
Below her is Robert Bruce, who started as a copywriter. This is an interesting part of our editorial, which is that our writers grow up into management, because who better to understand what you’re trying to accomplish as a media publication than the people who’ve been there on the ground day to day?
He’s become more of a VP of marketing operations type. He gets things done, makes sure that everything gets done on the editorial side, and communicates with the development side of the company in order to make sure that business objectives are in line and that things are being coordinated properly from a promotional standpoint.
Then we have Beth Hayden who is a senior writer that we just hired. Then we’ve got a junior staff writer who we just hired, and that’s basically how the blog runs. Now, that doesn’t take into account the fact that we get a ton of guest content, but we also edit all of that content.
We run Copyblogger.com much like an online magazine. You would never submit a piece to Vanity Fair and have not one word touched, right?
We run Copyblogger.com much like an online magazine. You would never submit a piece to Vanity Fair and have not one word touched, right? We’ve always taken that approach from day one, that we are a professional publication, we have even more incentive of a high standard of writing, given that we teach writing and content creation.
That’s basically how Copyblogger runs. Now of course, eventually you have to make offers, you run promotions. There is a traditional “get the ball across the finish line” aspect to this, and that comes down to basic conversion, copywriting, those types of things. That”s never going to go away. I always like to say that the content itself gets us about 85% of the way there.
If I went into a traditional business today, I would set something up that looked very much like that.
Eric Enge: Do you have anybody who helps you come up with articles, ideas, or find interesting resources, who does research for you to make your personal content creation easier?
Brian Clark: No, I do all that myself, which is why I’m writing less these days, because I have a lot on my plate. However, that’s an executive or entrepreneur level decision. What is the positioning of this content, this publication, within the broader market in order to reach a certain type of audience? That’s step number one, and that’s top line strategy.
Eric Enge: Do you think that a chief content officer, or a senior writer who has an enormous amount on their plate, can derive leverage from resources that make it easier for them to come up with content ideas?
Brian Clark: I personally would love to have someone like that.
As an editorial team as a total, we get together and kick it around in a room. It’s very much like you would imagine the writer’s room on a TV show or a magazine or whatever. There’s 80% joking around, but in the remaining time some really good stuff comes out.
The person at the top level has to be the visionary, the Arianna Huffington, if you will. You certainly can’t do everything yourself, and you certainly have to be open to new suggestions and up-flow channels from your team. If not, you’re being autocratic and you’re probably being ineffective. I think you need a dedicated person who has a general vision, who understands where he or she wants to go in conjunction with the business objectives of the rest of the company. Then you need as much of a team as you can get to execute, and also to stay agile.
You always have to stay relevant to the audience, constantly staying in tune with your audience, which means you’re constantly doing research.
It comes to a head when you start thinking like a media company. You always have to stay relevant to the audience, constantly staying in tune with your audience, which means you’re constantly doing research. I’m wired this way, so I may not be normal, but that’s why we’re the type of organization that we are. If you’re someone newer to the game then you need all the help you can get on that front, especially research.
Eric Enge: Did you have any last thoughts you wanted to add, Brian?
Brian Clark: Content creation constantly comes up as the number one challenge of doing content marketing.
It’s getting to the point where yes, people need to understand that editorial process, how you tell a story over time that leads to revenue and profit. But also – what are the nuts and bolts? Who are the people, what do they cost? How do they work with one another? I think I’m getting a pretty strong signal that I know the direction I need to take my own personal content production, because people are starting to ask the really serious questions.
Eric Enge: Thanks Brian!
Brian Clark: Thank you Eric!
Brian built three successful offline businesses using online marketing techniques before moving to a completely online business model. The result of that move, Copyblogger Media, is an innovative company that provides the advice and solutions that empower people to successfully grow their businesses through social media and online marketing.
Video Tip from Brian Clark
Here’s a 3-minute excerpt from a Digital Marketing Excellence Show interview Eric did with Brian Clark. Click here for more Brian Clark Content Marketing Video tips!
Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient Digital. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO. Learn More About Eric Enge