June 10, 2024 #ContentChat Recap: Unlocking Content Marketing’s Potential

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is unlocking content marketing’s potential, with host Erika Heald and guest Andy Seibert.

“When everyone’s playing it safe, do something different. It’s a really interesting time right now for content marketers to think differently and think about opportunities.”—Andy Seibert

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by Andy Seibert, founder and CEO of the award-winning content marketing agency Imprint, to discuss how to unlock content marketing’s potential. 

Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.

Q1: How has content marketing as an industry evolved in recent years?

Andy originally thought Imprint would focus on content creation, however, many organizations lacked a content strategy (and still do today). 

“About 11 years ago—and I can mark this because it was a huge awakening—when I started Imprint, I thought we were going to be mostly creating content. So articles and infographics and all the fun stuff. [But] it turned out that most people didn’t have a documented content strategy. And it was sort of that time where content marketing had been around for a while but it’d been custom publishing and all other different names.”—Andy Seibert

“We finally got our rightful place at the marketing table. Content marketing got its seat. And there was this rush where everybody was creating content, and it was all about create, create, create. I started Imprint and [asked clients], ‘Why are you doing this? What’s the purpose?’ And we quickly shifted to content strategy. We were doing everything from enterprise content strategy to particular campaigns. Why are you doing this? What content do you already have? Can you reuse it? Refresh it? Do you need to do any research and validate the basic stuff?”—Andy Seibert

Content-driven organizations are now focused on optimizing their content instead of increasing their new content output. 

“Now it’s become much more sophisticated. It’s not about creating new content, it’s really about making the most of the content you have through analytics, SEO, and other means. I like the way it’s matured. It has continued to be interesting, and I think it has continued to be the most engaging way to do marketing.”—Andy Seibert 

Content plays a vital role in earning your buyer’s trust and helping them make informed purchasing decisions. 

“You can play with price, you can play with reward programs, or you can play with the value of the product. Educating people and empowering them with knowledge to make them more confident in the decisions they’re making, that’s super powerful.”—Andy Seibert

“If you have a mission-driven organization, it aligns so much better as a marketing strategy, as a way to get out in front of your potential clients or customers. [Content marketing] is so much better than doing a hard sell or trying to trick them into accidentally buying more things or having eight different pricing models. It feels a lot more authentic and transparent. You’re giving them something so you can be in the consideration set, versus trying to push people into making an ill-informed decision—which a lot of advertising in the past felt that way.”—Erika Heald

“As this risk in decision making goes up on the B2B and B2C side, you need to empower that decision maker to give them the confidence, especially with high-risk and high-stakes decisions.”—Andy Seibert 

Q2: Some people still think of content marketing as a campaign they can turn on and off. How do you reinforce the value and impact of taking an ongoing content marketing approach?

Content marketing is more than a single campaign or piece of content. 

“When I have conversations with folks and they’re talking about ‘We did a content marketing campaign,” I’m like, ‘What do you mean you did a content marketing campaign?’ It makes me want to cry because we’ve come so far, and then there are still people who think content marketing is something where we do a couple of pieces of content and we’re doing content marketing. Content can be part of your campaigns, you can have a content strategy for a campaign, but you need a content strategy that’s overarching to meet your business goals. It’s not just a quarterly campaign that you’re doing.”—Erika Heald

Content marketing can fulfill the needs of a range of internal and external stakeholders, not just customers. 

“Go back to the basics. Who are your main customers, and, not making it bigger than a breadbasket, but [how do you help] them think differently about your business? It could be customers, and you could have different segmentation within those customers. You could have B2B and B2C and then have different audiences within each of those. But you also have, if you’re a public company, investors and stakeholders.”—Andy Seibert

“The smart clients are thinking about their employees as customers. And a good content strategy reflects the brand and the brand pillars, and so the content has pillars. And that’s where you can get a [content team] thinking they have to be ‘on’ all the time. Not publishing all the time, but really focused on delivering proof points against the content strategy that reflects the brand strategy. So it might just be a campaign to employees or a campaign to customers, but it all rolls up to this overall messaging strategy. And that’s where the light bulb goes off for a good marketer.”—Andy Seibert

Q3: How should content marketing and social media teams align?

Many content marketing teams do not run their brand social media accounts, which makes it harder to align efforts, achieve consistency, and foster genuine engagement and conversation with your community.  

“There’s a lot around social media. In a lot of companies, social media is run by a different group than marketing. We’re working so hard on a B2C content strategy and executing across that, and yet we don’t have social media. And I’ll follow the social media account, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh my goodness, what is going on with the content in those posts?”—Andy Seibert

It’s such a missed opportunity. If you’re treating social as its own completely separate stream and having it, for example, report up to corporate comms and using it to amplify your media mentions and ad campaigns, then you’re missing out on having that meaningful one-on-one conversation and on this huge distribution platform for your content.”—Erika Heald  

Q4: When you think about the future of content marketing, what opportunities are you most excited about?

New technology capabilities empower marketers to deliver truly personalized content at scale. 

“I’m excited about finally realizing what Peppers and Rogers put out there in their book, One to One Marketing. We can finally have one-to-one marketing where you can do mass, individual customization of your content, because you can finally have all those segmentation and variables and use them in tools that can say for this segment use this different headline.”—Erika Heald

“Back in like 2001 we were doing print on demand. Especially in the retirement world with 401K plans, you had closed data systems where you had people’s information and salary. So you had feeds from HR, you had feeds from the company managing the record keeper. We were doing print pieces in the early 2000s that were totally customized, blank paper coming out with enrollment kits and deferral increase kits and things like that. It was literally one-to-one, and the response rates were off the charts. If you can increase relevance in the communications, you can increase engagement. That’s been proven 20 years ago.”—Andy Seibert

Data management, however, will be an ongoing challenge for teams. 

“People need clean data, which a lot of companies don’t have clean data. And I‘ve got a bunch of customers who are focused on cleaning up their databases.”—Andy Seibert

“I’ve been getting ads and emails that range from things that are marketing things for senior citizens to me but from other companies, I’m getting things that think I’m an 18-year-old boy because I play video games.”—Erika Heald

And it’s a tricky balance between personalized and creepy or offputting. 

“There is a risk in getting it wrong. You have to make sure everything’s tested really well. Personalization doesn’t mean telling you what I know about you. It means serving you up things because I know about you. So deliver experiences because of the information I have. But that could go terribly wrong.”—Andy Seibert

In an ideal situation, brand websites would personalize and compile content based on visitors and their specific needs, with an element of discovery.  

“What’s nirvana? Nirvana is a website you go to and it recognizes that you go there, and it’s personalized and skimmed just for you. Everything is compiled. There’s still an element of discovery. That’s what I loved about magazines; I turned the page, and something was curated and it’s like this is so interesting. And right now, the world isn’t set up for it. Google wouldn’t reward you for personalized sites built on demand. If there’s nothing to crawl, then there’s nothing to rank.”—Andy Seibert

Achieving this personalization will require marketers to give their audiences feedback mechanisms to indicate what type of content they want to see. 

“It’s going to come down to when the technology allows us to let the person receiving that personalized content give the thumbs up or thumbs down in real time—easily, without having to do a survey or fill out a lengthy form. How on target is this?”—Erika Heald

Andy and Erika love that long-form content is a consideration for many teams, alongside the many other content types they can create. 

“Folks were talking about long-form content. Personally, long-form content, I don’t know if it excites me. But I liked the fact that it wasn’t immediately taken off the table as a format that might really work with some customers. Let’s put everything on the table.”—Andy Seibert

“I love long-form content when it’s done really well. That’s why I love magazines, because that’s an amazing format for having long-form content. I wonder if we’re not going to see more brands [publish] not a monthly but maybe a quarterly or even just a once-a-year magazine. Because every so often, I’ll get something in the mail and be very pleasantly surprised that it’s a brand I didn’t expect sending me a publication that I will sit and read.”—Erika Heald

“It’s an interesting balance now with how many emails we get and how much digital content and the exhaustion of that. We started Imprint from scratch with no intention of doing print, and we’re doing three print magazines. And the client’s customers love them.”—Andy Seibert

“We’re in the deep dive now where we are looking at filling the gap for digital. There are certain things about print magazine that really worked, and we are figuring out how to bring those elements into the digital world, because they were kind of left behind, some of these elements.”—Andy Seibert

“It’s almost like expected curiosity and discovery from an editorial group that you respected. Especially if you subscribe to the magazine.”—Andy Seibert

Q5: What content formats do you think more content marketers should invest in?

Look at both content channels and formats. Can you test different elements of your content format? Are there new channels you can explore? 

“Format and channel. Is there something different that can be done to make emails different, or to look at a new distribution channel or a way of distribution or things like that?”—Andy Seibert

Review your competitors’ messaging. Does your brand content stand out?

“A lot of it is messaging. Do we have enough brand in our content? Do we have personality? Whether it’s positioning, mission, purpose, or product, are we different than our competitors? It’s something people should really look at and do a competitive scan and say, are we all talking the same, and is there an opportunity for us to change the conversation and get noticed.”—Andy Seibert

Consider how you can give your customers access to expertise and resources—or provide a true experience—they can’t get elsewhere.

“A lot of times, you can do that by collaborating with an industry expert or a brand that’s adjacent to yours and shares your values but isn’t a competitor. I was involved with a large enterprise SaaS company that was doing a bunch of content all around opportunities for customers to have access to real innovators and thought leaders who had recently published books. So they would invite them to roundtable conversations with the best customers, webinars with everybody else, and then [create] derivative content. So sometimes it’s just about using your platforms and your access and giving that access to your customers.”—Erika Heald

“Brands on the B2C side, let’s say you’re a big cosmetics company, the idea is, let your clients talk on YouTube or let your clients demo. And maybe some of them will be paid influencers. But why not corral them together into a space where they literally can be transparent and can be authentic? I think of it as a dinner party, and you’re the host of the dinner party. And what makes a good dinner party? It’s not necessarily the host. The host just curates interesting people to come to the dinner party and lets the conversation happen. If you’ve learned something and you’ve laughed and you found something interesting and found a new friend, you thank the host, and you’re loyal to the host, but it’s not all about the host. If more brands thought about that, and not having to control all the messaging, that might be a good thing.”—Andy Seibert

“It comes down to what kind of experience you are giving people. Everybody is thinking more about their budget and all of these external things, but if they feel like you value them as a human being and you provide a great experience, they’re going to go with you over other places.”—Erika Heald

Customer case studies and stories can be especially powerful for engaging customers (when written from the customer’s perspective, that is). 

“I really like the idea of customer [stories]. On the B2B side, it’s something like 87% of decisions are made before they actually talk to the company. And so buyers are doing research and if they can validate through someone else’s example? Awesome.”—Andy Seibert

Q6: What have been some of the content projects your team has produced—either for the agency or for clients—that you are most proud of?

Andy appreciates integrated partnerships where the client is eager to measure the program results. 

“I have a client that I’m really proud of. We do a magazine, content for the website, content for their sales force, email program content, and we deliver to the social program. It’s a fully integrated experience. And they’re a great client because they actually measure and try to measure everything. And each one of those disciplines we need to bring our best practice to.”—Andy Seibert

The Imprint team often coaches clients to understand the best strategies for brand editorial content. 

“We’re really good working with the brand groups and saying, ‘That’s the brand for advertising. What about editorial interpretation of the brand? And how do we get clients engaged with content experiences with the brand? So they can quickly know what’s content and what’s an ad or what’s a product.”—Andy Seibert

Andy was involved in one of the first interactive videos.

“It was targeted to small businesses, and it was one of the first interactive videos. You’d be watching this video on YouTube, and all of a sudden, you could sort of leave the sales funnel at any time and just enter a whole different experience when you were empowered. It was sort of this full-funnel video and a customer journey supported by organic and promotional, but not paid.”—Andy Seibert

His team created an engaging quiz leveraging existing content.

“We had a client, and we did a retirement piece for their magazine and their website on different generations, how they are saving for retirement, [and] how they should be saving for retirement. So we took a piece that was in print, it was online, it was a long-form piece, and we were like, let’s make a Buzzfeed-type quiz out of this. And we got to use little blue people instead of photography. And it became this really funky ‘Are you a millennial who saves like a boomer? Are you a boomer that saves like a millennial?’ and then you get tips based on how you were saving and who you were. And it was all based on content that already existed and was already approved”—Andy Seibert

Imprint shares Small Business Stories on LinkedIn to support their mission and showcase their capabilities. 

“On LinkedIn we have a series we call Small Business Stories. Part of our mission is to help stand up and support other small businesses, particularly those from underserved and diverse communities. And so we tell their stories. We’re using video and social and article and long form, we’re using all these different techniques to tell the stories. And we’re doing it for them, but also as part of our purpose, and it showcases what we can do and how integrated content can be distributed.”—Andy Seibert

Q7: What are your and your team’s favorite content marketing tools?

Andy’s team uses a mix of translation and processing tools, as well as Wrike for project management. 

“There are definitely some productivity tools that we use here at Imprint that have helped the client relationship because we can deliver faster and more nimble. There are translation tools. And we use some good processing tools. We’ve kind of used them all, but we’re using Wrike at the moment.”—Andy Seibert

“Every system has pros and cons. You’ve got to figure out which one kind of works for you.”—Andy Seibert

Imprint’s discovery lab is a virtual collaboration space for team members to test new tools and stay ahead of the martech landscape to better advise clients. 

“We’ve got a discovery lab going on where we’re testing dozens of tools. Some of them are for us, and some are for clients. As content marketers, you really have to lean into what your client is using, especially in a regulated industry like financial services.”—Andy Seibert

“We need to be two steps ahead of our clients, and we actually need to be two steps ahead of ourselves. Whatever tool it may be, AI or otherwise, we need to know what’s on the market. And ther are thousands of tools on the market. We’ve done some surveys among CMOs, and knowing technology and not knowing technology is one of the biggest things CMOs are worried about. And those are my clients. So if I can help lead by example and help educate them.”—Andy Seibert

“The discovery lab is all about the Imprint team being curious, finding different tools, and bringing them to the discovery lab. We have a particular methodology about how we test. And we have some owners of the discovery lab who are full-time employees—they also have client relationships and editorial responsibilities—and then people can come into the lab and leave the lab as they have time.”—Andy Seibert

“My goal is, I’d like to have multiple clients here in a room talking to each other just about what’s working and not working, and not be afraid to do that. Let’s share information and see what works. It’s not about the tool. The differentiation is about what we put into the tool.”—Andy Seibert

“You have to look at what clients have signed up for. What tools are they using? What are their pain points? And can you help them alleviate any of those pain points?”—Andy Seibert

Check out the #ContentChat community’s favorite content marketing tools and templates here.

Q8: How does your agency keep its team up-to-speed on content creation and content marketing innovations? Do you recommend any communities or resources for networking or ongoing content marketing skill development?

Andy encourages his team to take courses and attend conferences they are interested in. These investments can go a long way!

“I have a policy where, if somebody sees a course they want to take, just bring it to me. Nobody has been denied a course. If you show that you’re curious and you’re bringing me a curiosity, I’ve sponsored a lot of that.”—Andy Seibert

“If it’s a small conference here in New York or if it’s a larger conference, I do look at those as investments in a really smart way. People remember those experiences almost more than classrooms. I can’t predict what somebody’s gonna learn when I send them off to Content Marketing World. They might learn about SEO, they might learn something about a new measurement tool, or they just might learn that they love Imprint.”—Andy Seibert

Keep the Conversation Going at CMworld

Interested in continuing this conversation? Look for Andy and Erika at CMworld 2024 in San Diego, and don’t miss Erika’s session on defining a differentiated brand voice with AI.

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