Joe Pulizzi is founder of Content Marketing Institute, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World.
Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s fourth book Content Inc. was just released. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. This interview includes the unique advantage content marketing offers small businesses.
Alzay Calhoun: Hey everybody, It's Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant, and I'm here today with Joe Pulizzi. This is going to be a really good episode. If you know content marketing, then you've heard his name somewhere before. If you haven't heard his name, today's going to be an excellent introduction.
Joe Pulizzi is the founder of Content Marketing Institute, he is the founder of Content Marketing World which is an annual event for those of us who are into content marketing. More important than his accolades is his perspective in how he thinks about content marketing, and what makes it useful for those of us who have boots on the ground looking customers in the face every day.
First let me introduce, or let me welcome him. Hey Joe? How are you today?
Joe Pulizzi: Alzay, it's great being here. I appreciate it.
Alzay: Let's start at the beginning. Please tell us the story on when you understood that content marketing was valuable.
Joe: I was blessed to get a job in 2000 at a company called Penton Media. Penton is a large, independent business‑to‑business company, one of the largest in North America. I got a job in the Custom Media Department, which basically, was a very unloved department at that time.
But what we did was, we did newsletters, and we did magazines, and then on into blog programs, and webinar programs for large B2B companies, like Microsoft and Parker Hannifin. We were trying to help them tell their story better.
Basically, what happened is if you were a sponsor or an advertiser for Penton Media Publications, which usually meant they were sponsoring trade shows or print magazine in some way, and you didn't want to spend money on advertising, the folks would throw it over the wall to us. They'd say, "Hey, could you get any money out of these folks?"
We would sit down with them, and talk to them about their challenges and the audiences they were trying to target. Out of that came some kind of a vehicle, usually very educational, very informational.
And to try to help them build an audience, and get that audience to know, like and trust them more, so that they would solve some of their goals, whether that was, "We need more revenue. We need to save costs in some way. We want to create happier customers, and we believe that if they're happier, they're going to buy more." So, it started with Penton.
I took over that department in 2001, and by 2005, 2006 as social media came on, as search became more and more important, I said, "Oh, my gosh. This is going to be big."
Content marketing as a discipline has been around as you know, hundreds of years, but because the Internet has taken off, and there's no barriers to entry for us to publish as companies, and also at the same time there's no barriers for our consumers to get information, they've got a 24/7 device with them at all times, a smartphone.
They can get any information they want. They can ignore us at will. I said, "Oh, well, if they can ignore our advertisements, and they can ignore our product pitches, we'd better figure out how to tell better stories consistently over time to build that audience, because if we don't we're going to be in trouble as businesses."
It was about that time 2005, 2006, I said, "This is going to be big." 2007, started what is now the Content Marketing Institute. What I found out as I was talking with more marketers, they didn't have this concept. They were really still thinking about, "Oh, I've got this product. I'm going to run this campaign. I've got to get interest. I've got to more leads."
Like we've done for that last 50 to 70 years, the same process, but content marketing doesn't work that way. It's all about building an audience, and if we build that audience, it knows, likes, and trusts us, then we see amazing things happen for our company. Most companies don't think that way, so that's when CMI was born, and we're still in the learning process, Alzay.
Most of the companies we go into, mostly mid‑sized and large companies, we go in, and this is still something that they're grappling with. They can't put their heads around it because it's so different than them just going out and shooting out content whichever ways they can, which are a lot today. Hundreds of different ways they can send out content, but they're not making an impact.
We're seeing effective interest rates as low as they've ever been since we've been measuring over the last six, seven years. This is a problem because they're still thinking, "Oh, because we can publish, we should be publishing," and that's not the case.
Just because you can, and we all can, doesn't mean your story's worth engaging in, doesn't mean it's going to do anything for your company, so you've got to think up front, "Why are we doing this? What is our purpose for doing this in the first place? How are we going to make an impact on that person?" This is the important thing.
Outside of the products and services we offer, how do we make an impact on that audience outside of what we offer? If we can do that, they'll be more apt to buy from us, to engage in us in some way, but you've got to get by that it's not about the products thing, and really focus on the needs of the audience.
Alzay: I have to be honest, as the interviewer in this situation. There are about a hundred places I can go.
Alzay: I want to go at all of them, but I know that that's not useful to those who are listening, so to keep ourselves focused, I think in the story you just told there's a part that is intuitive for you, and maybe for me as well, but is less intuitive for those who are trying to implement content marketing.
You said back at Penton Media they would kind of "throw us some leads, and say 'find a way to monetize these folks,'" and so you engaged them, and you asked questions about their situation, and began to produce answers to those questions. I'd make the argument that good content marketing starts right there, in giving answers to problems. Would you agree with that assessment?
Joe: I think that's a great place to start, absolutely. Let's just take it from the beginning. Let's say I'm doing a client engagement, and I say, "OK. What's your goals?" They're going to say, "We need more leads for this product." I'm like, "OK. That's fine, but who are we trying to target?"
Let's say they're a B2B company, and they'll start going through, "We're trying to target the CFO for the buying decision. We're trying to target the mechanical engineer for this," and whatnot. They go down the line. I'm like, "OK, but for content marketing to work, we have to focus on a very specific audience, so if you focus on multiple audiences, you are not going to be relevant.
"There's no way we can tell a story that's relevant to those three audiences you just put on the board, so who are we going to target?" "We're going to target the mechanical engineer, then, because we feel that's the one where we really want them to understand the story we're trying to tell."
"Great." But then I'm going to say, "Is that enough? Is it just the mechanical engineer? What's the process that this mechanical engineer is going through? Can we get more specific than that? What are some of the challenges?"
"Is there something about that that they're doing that we need to know about? What specifically is it? Are they trying to get a better job? What's their inherent motivation?"
You're really going into audience development, at that point. Mostly, when we get into these meetings, they want to start blogging, or they want to start doing podcasts right away. That's like step 25, and we want to be in the upfront process.
Then we're figuring out, "OK, we're just going to focus on this one audience." Then I'm like, "OK, well what's the story we're going to tell?" "Well, we want them to buy more of our products and services."
I'm like, "Well, that's not going to work, because you know what? They don't care about your products and services, at all. They care about their own needs. They care about whatever ‑‑ getting that better job, or living that better life in some way. How are we going to connect with that?"
Then it gets down to we better be telling a differentiated story that they can't get anywhere else that's really going to separate you, so that they will know I can trust you more at the end of the day, because you're delivering such value to them on a consistent basis.
That's where we really get into, "Why are we doing this in the first place?" What is the why, outside of the products and services we offer ‑‑ we're going to put those to the side for a second because all we're doing right now is we're going to try to build a relationship with that audience?
We do that through content, but content in itself is not the asset. The asset is the audience. How do we build the audience? We do that through content.
If we can build that audience through other means, that's great, but the asset at the end of the day is that audience, and I think a lot of people forget that. We think, "Oh, we've got all these blogs."
This is a great way to look at it, actually. If you're trying to value "The New York Times" you don't say, "Well, New York Times, they had 20,000 pieces of content last year. We're going to value that at that."
No, they don't. You know how you value The New York Times? You value you them at the audience, and what the buying behavior of that audience. That's how you focus on it.
That's where we want to say, "How do we build that audience?" That is the key to everything.
We just went through a little opening consulting engagement, but that takes an hour or two hours sometimes to put the arms around, because when you go into a company, you've got IT, and you've got communications, you've got PR, you've got marketing, all doing different things.
But we've got to get them all on the same page, focusing on who's that audience, how can we really make an impact with that audience, and how can we separate ourselves as the leading experts in something, in order for them to do something profitable at the end of the day.
That's a very, very hard thing to do. That's why small companies actually have an advantage over large companies, because you just need one or two people to say, "Yes, I believe in this."
You get executive support, and you can move on a very niche audience with a very specific thing you're trying to talk about, instead of going wide and broad, which is what a lot of big companies want to do. That's why they're never successful.
If you're targeting more than one audience or more than one content mission at a time, you won't be successful.
Alzay: OK. You just got to an angle, to a part of this story that got even more interesting for us. All these activities involved in content marketing, you were going through that, how you've got to get your head around it before you do something.
Then you said, "I think this is the place where small companies could be better than big companies." I want to sit there for a second.
Many of the examples that we get from content marketing experts, etc., are big companies. Look at what Coke is doing, and McDonalds is doing, what Xerox has done, etc.
If you run a mid‑sized company, or if you run a company of 50 people, you are not Xerox, you are not UPS. You can't emulate that word for word, or that strategy step for step.
For that smaller company, let's say you're 50 people, you're 15 people. How do we create some relevance around the content that we decide to create?
That's where you are, and if you could please, help us better think about where a small company could be even more nimble than a McDonalds or a UPS or a Xerox, etc.
Joe: It's interesting. We probably should talk about those big case studies, because I would maybe say that a lot of those big case studies aren't content marketing at all, but we'll put that to the side. That's a totally different podcast that you and I could go through.
If you are a big company, let's just say, and one of our clients has seven product managers that manage thousands of products that they're trying to figure out, and they have literally 30 to 40 different audiences that they're trying to target, they want to do something big. They need scale.
So when you go in, and you say, "Oh, well to make this work in contact marketing you've got to focus on one of those audiences," they hate that. They want something big. They want a big campaign. They want to put a lot of money behind it. They want 30‑second spots. They want all that type of stuff.
If you go into a small company with, let's say, 15 people, usually it's maybe two or three. It's not as many products, and it's not as many audiences. We actually have an easier road to that because we can say, "Look."
Let's say that you're a B2B company. You have 15 people. You're a B2B company. You have, let's say, seven to nine buyers decision‑makers, influencers in that process.
Then you can really focus and say, "Oh, all right, we're just going to focus on that one, because if we feel that we can be the go‑to resource for that one audience it's going to take care of all of our product and service issues. They're going to want to buy from us."
Obviously, we need to prove that, but that's the hypothesis. That's the first step. You're just making a hypothesis. We don't know. You just want to start there with that one particular audience.
Now, you and I, we can have an argument all day long about the quality of content. I would say that most of the quality of content out there coming from those big brands it's not inspirational, it's not informational, it's not entertaining, it doesn't do anything, it doesn't uplift us in any way. It's probably more around product and service relation issues.
Yes, we could talk about that, and you could say the same for small companies, but usually that's not the problem in a lot of cases. Usually it's consistency. When I talk to a small company and I'll go in, they'll say, "Oh, I've been doing contact marketing for six months now." I say, "You have? What have you been doing?"
"Oh, we've been doing this blog." "OK, well, tell me about the blog. What are you focused on?" "Oh, well, we'll do one post a week on an informational issue, and then we've got something from the company Picnic, or something like that." I'm like, "OK, well there's something."
Let's see about, "How many times do you send it?" And it's like "Usually we get the blog out two times a week, but sometimes it's one, but we haven't done an update in two weeks." I'm like, "Oh, my god, here we go."
I'm like, "You're not really doing contact marketing. You're just creating content, and you're spitting it out there whenever you have the time. Because you are not consistent about it you don't care enough about that relationship with that audience to be consistent."
"That's our promise. The content you deliver is a promise to your customers, and once you don't deliver that, and I mean deliver it consistently. If you say three blog posts a week, I want a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 o'clock Eastern Time send, and I don't want them at 7:05."
"I want just like you're thinking like I'm delivering the newspaper where we used to say if that newspaper wasn't out on that doorstep you were upset. You were disappointed because...we want them to be disappointed if they don't receive it so we're going to deliver on that. We want them to want to engage in that content."
If a small company can actually...if they commit to it, and you say that this is as important as anything else we're doing, you can deliver on that much easier because you don't have those political battles internally.
You don't have, for example, somebody saying, "Well, I know you want to put Blog on the navigation, but you know what? That's owned by somebody else, and I can't give you that navigation. I'll put something in the footer, and Google will find it, and that'll be good enough.
There are battles that we fight in large companies all the time that are that political, that are that silly, but in a small company you don't have to deal with that. That's why in my new book, "Contact, Inc." all those case studies are small.
They're all from people who had no resources that honestly were just like, "We don't know what we're going to sell, but we know this audience. We're going to talk about this content niche. We're going to focus on the audience needs. We're going to do that."
After 15 to 18 months all of a sudden they've got this fairly large audience that they can start to monetize through products, through sponsorships, through events, or through whatnot.
Because the mindset is the hardest thing that you're going to have to get through. If you already believe it, and you get executive support in your organization, you can make this happen, and you have sometimes hundreds of people in a large company that you have to convince to get that done.
Smaller companies you can move quicker, you can be more flexible, and you can divert the resources that's necessary to make sure that you're going to consistently deliver over time, because that's what it's going to take.
Alzay: In addition to everything you just said, one of the places where a smaller company gets down on themselves is they look at the polish of the content that's created by those large companies, and they say, "We can't create anything that looks that "good," that's that polished and refined, etc."
But in all of what you just said you didn't speak to any of that, because the polish isn't the point. The point is to resonate and to be helpful. If you have focused on that audience, and you've committed to delivering that value at a consistent clip, meaning at a regular pace, then they become less concerned with what it looks like.
If they're more concerned, "Is it helpful?" And you win. I'm adding that in addition to everything you just said.
Joe: Yes, just look at the way technology barriers have come down. You and I we can create a podcast as good, or better than any large company by spending 20 bucks a month from a podcast standpoint.
From a blog standpoint blog templates are available. If you're on WordPress or whatever, you can make it look as good or better, and really that's not the point. There's some great case studies whether you look at Marcus Sheridan and Rivers Pools and Spas.
I still look at that page that they've gone from almost going out of bankruptcy to selling more fiberglass pools than any company in North America. That page is nothing fancy. But you know what it is? It's super helpful. It is amazingly helpful because they're being authentic, and they're sharing information that nobody else is sharing.
I love Jenny Doan, who works at Missouri Star Quilting Company, look at their YouTube. She's been doing YouTube videos consistently weekly for the last three years. They went from a very, very small company, and now they've become the Disneyland of quilting.
People descend on Hamilton, Missouri, I believe it is, because they want to see her, because her 8‑minute, 10‑minute tutorials that she's doing on quilting are better than anything else in the world, and it's very, very low‑tech. She even has little signs. It's not graphics. She'll bring in the signs.
Joe: Made signs with writing on them. They're using Sharpies. It's that kind of thing where you're being creative but you're just being helpful, and you're just delivering consistently. There's no barriers anymore, there's absolutely no barriers with anything, video, with audio, with textural content. It doesn't matter anymore. We can create content as well as anybody else creates it.
Alzay: Very, very good. There's one more thing I want to cover here at the risk of completing overwhelming the person listening right now. There's one more thing I want to tackle, which is let's talk about content champion.
There was another interview you were giving, but you were making the point that someone basically has to own this idea internally. With all of this strategic intent, etc. someone in‑house has to make sure that we're delivering on this content marketing, promise and execution. Can you talk about how should we think about that? How should we think about having someone internally own it?
Joe: If you look at any content marketing program you have things that are outsourced. You have writing, editing might be outsourced. Design might be outsourced. Production might be outsourced. And that's whether you are a small company, or a large company, doesn't matter.
Generally, most programs outsource something, but you don't outsource the story you're telling. You don't outsource the strategy. You need somebody to own that strategy. To be committed and say, OK. What is the hypothesis? What's the why? Like, why are we doing this in the first place?
That's why we want people to do a content marketing mission statement so if you are focusing on an audience, who is that audience? I like this written out, who's the audience? What are you delivering? What useful piece of information you're delivering and what's the outcome for the audience? What a lot of people think, and where you get into trouble is, you think that outcome is you selling more stuff, and it's not the outcome.
Alzay: That's your outcome. [laughs]
Joe: That's your outcome! That's how you're going to measure it. But that's not how you're creating your content and telling your stories. The outcome is you're trying to help them do something different. You're trying to help them maintain or change a behavior that they weren't doing before. That's what's exciting about it.
That's where you can see real impact happen. Focus on those little things and you have to have someone, internally, do that, let's say you're a small company and you're going to say, "Hey Joe. I don't have any resources I can't..." That's fine.
You don't need the resources, but you need to make sure that you're focused on that audience, every minute of every day, so that they're coming in. Then when you look at those metrics, and you look at things like email subscribers, and you look at share ability, and you look at web traffic. You can start to convert that and say, "Oh, those people that subscribe to my podcast, to my blog, to my video series." They're behavior is different and it's helping us in the business in some way.
They buy more. They stay longer. They close faster. They talk more. They market our company more. They advocate for our company. Whatever the case is, that's the end. That's the things that are internal to us, that you can get more budgets for. But you have to have somebody that understands why are we doing this in the first place?
Who are we targeting? What's their outcome? And we believe if we solve their outcome, we fulfill the things that they want to fulfill. As human beings, that we can help our business in some way be profitable, that's just a very simple way to look at the approach of content marketing.
Alzay: I don't want to add any more.
Alzay: I think that's enough. I think we've nailed it. In your business, what you've got going on with your many projects Joe. Is there anything big that you want to share with us, that's around the corner?
Joe: Well, the big thing we're working on right now is, Content Marketing World. We're going on our sixth year for Content Marketing World, the largest event for content marketing. If you really believe in this, and you really want to get educated in it, we have 12 concurrent tracks.
We'll have over 4,000 people from over 50 countries come into Cleveland, Ohio this year, September 6th through 9th. We're working on the agenda right now, we signed Cheap Trick as our band coming in. We like to have fun as we're doing this. We've got our ongoing education, Content Marketing University going on as well.
Then my book, "Content Inc." came out about five months ago, I'm just out promoting that. If you're listening to this and you're a very small company, "Content Inc." is the book for you. That's the one where I have no resources I don't know how I'm going to get this done. It's an audience first approach to content marketing. If you're part of a big company listening to this and you've got political battles, and you don't know how you're going to do it, that's "Epic Content Marketing."
That's why I wrote the two different books, just to make sure...Because there are two very different environments you're in. Whether you in a very small company, or a very large company.
Alzay: Very good. So if folks want to reach out to you, how should they do that? Where do you want to send them?
Joe: Yeah. I'm @joepulizzi, on twitter. I'm fairly responsive. I try to get back to people in 24 hours if I can. Then if you want to contact me directly, everything that I do is joepulizzi.com. Then everything for the business is on contentmarketinginstitute.com. That's where everything ‑‑ all of our free webinars, all of our free content is on there. That'll take you to information about Content Marketing World, or some of the other events we're doing.
Alzay: OK, very, very good Joe. Thank you so very much for your time. I really appreciate you spending time with us today. Good luck in the future sir.
Joe: Thanks my friend. Really appreciate the time. That was fun.