No lollygagging around here. After that great intro, we’re right into the info. We don’t mess around at BlueGlass. Well, except for maybe a little at Halloween.
Next up, BlueGlass President, Greg Boser, and Founder/CEO of Copyblogger Media, Brian Clark are going to give us a rundown of how businesses can not only survive, but thrive in the ever-changing online landscape by leveraging new opportunities as BlueGlass Director of Account Management, Christopher Hart, moderates. You don’t want to miss this one.
Chris welcomes everyone to the session. He says putting the presentation into a PowerPoint presentation didn’t work out too well, so they’re working from an outline. We’re starting off with mindset and business model. Sometime that understanding a biz matrix, sometimes it’s other things.
Christopher: When you guys are dealing with a building a product set, how do you address the different mindsets? We’re starting with an easy one.
Greg: To be extremely blunt and painful, that’s the most difficult thing, whether you’re an agency or not, dealing with all the fractured units in your company, and getting all the groups on the same page are talking to each other. From an agency side, for us, we spend a lot of time dealing with clients and making sure they’re able to work with that because if they’re not, we can’t work with them. We spend a lot of time saying no. If we find the person in house who’s wiling to commit to that, it’s great, but I think in this era now, it’s a two way street of participation with the client. They have to contribute. Someone has to step up and fight the fight, and say the words no one wants to hear.
Brian: Everyone is focusing on the disruption of the sales cycle and the traditional business model. A lot of people get freaked out, but a lot people see it the other way. I’ve built companies from nothing, which is amazing, but I try to encourage small businesses to think entrepreneurially. When you have a shift as big as we’re re seeing right now, it’s an opportunity. We’re not going to try to convince people who don’t get it, we’re going to focus on the ones who want to get on board. How can we become more like a media producer? 60% of sales take place without your participation. Most buyers, when they’re looking at the research, they don’t immediately go to price. A lot of people just aren’t going to take action. A lot of people do get it, they just don’t know how to do it. That’s what we need to talk about.
Greg: The thing Brian does very well is he spent all his time building an audience first, and then developed products for them instead of the other way around. If you don’t put your audience first—that’s what people are struggling with. That’s a valid model, he’s proved it multiple times. That’s why we do these shows. We’re committed to building an audience. We don’t want to force feed products and services to people.
Brian: It sounds farfetched, yet it’s very pragmatic. Someone comes up with an idea and looks for distribution rather than listening to an audience. It’s easier to hit the mark that way. Listening is the most nebulous aspect.
Christopher: So when you’re working on this, and people aren’t listening to where the conversations are occurring, and someone says tell us what we need to track. If you’re not in tune with your audience, you don’t know how to drive decision making. Once you understand those matrices, you can choose what channels and platforms to work on.
Greg: I hate the word channel.
Christopher: Well change it if you like.
Greg: I don’t know how many companies have internal competition of resources, everyone’s trying to get a win to look good in their own channel…
Brian: That’s a good point. Content, social and search is one department—we call it editorial. We’re a software company, but we’re called Copyblogger Media. People latch onto this. You need an editorial department to execute your marketing play.
Content marketing is over 100 years old. John Deere started it. Proctor and Gamble created soap operas on radio, a new medium at the time, and created a relationship with housewives. By the 1970s it was the most lucrative form of television in existence. It shows you this has been around for a long time, and can be paradigm shifting—sorry to use that term. If you’re a small business you have that latitude. Agency advice would be to take that model. The more you hear about integration of content with other forms in the coming year—it’s not an island. I hear stories about success with a content marketing initiative, and then people are asking “Can you publish my press release?”
Greg: The P&G thing, we run into that all the time. What can we produce for content? How do you make toothpaste sexy and exciting? It’s about doing something bigger and putting your product in front of people when they’re not actually ready to buy your product. You can apply that to any space on the Internet. It sounds good on paper, but what do we write about? We’re accountants. You have to think longer term. We run into that with larger companies. It may not pay off in that first 12 months. Everyone has to commit to do it long term. You can’t build something like this in a quarter.
Brian: I think the issue is we have an advertising campaign mindset. This isn’t a campaign. If a media project can be successful with an advertising model, it can be much more successful. When I started publishing on line in 1998, there weren’t blogs telling you what to do, or conferences like this, you just had to do it.
Greg: Code word for being a spammer, right?
Brian: No, that was you. But more prospective clients contacted me from the simple newsletter I put out. It opened my eyes to what I could be doing. In direct marketing terms, you’re building an audience rather than buying an audience. Copyblogger started as a blog that turned into a software company that’s powered by an online magazine. You need to ask, what does my audience need to hear from me?
Christopher: So the next phase, team building. How would you deal with developing roles for specific positions, and helping clients to do that?
Greg: A lot of trial and error. What you’re doing with clients, you have to apply that to your internal hiring, too. It took us a while to understand what a BlueGlasser was, and who would succeed in our organization. The most important thing for us is finding people who have the desire to learn about everything. It took a while for us to figure out what traits those who were succeeding had, as opposed to those who weren’t. Sometimes we run into a situation where we have a position we need to fill quickly, and we need someone to hit the ground running, so we put a lot of effort into finding the right person. Interviewing, getting to know them, using a referral network to get second and third opinions…otherwise, you run into the same situation where you’re having to fire someone soon after you hire them.
Brian: We started with the same mindset, which is a fancy way if saying it was me and a laptop. We have several teams which are all crucial. On the editorial side, it started with me, and I launched companies off of Copyblogger as opportunities came to me. They became partnerships, and then we merged all those companies together. Sonia Simone was an early customer, and it’s always been that way on the editorial side. We’ve hired people who’ve been into what we’re doing. I won’t get much intro recruiting. But editorial runs the way you’d expect a magazine or another publication to run. It’s not just content—it’s content marketing. You have to tell a story, bring people along, get people to trust and like you. It’s not just awareness. You’re going through the entire sales process you might do with a long sales letter, but it doesn’t come across that way. But if you’re doing it correctly, you’re overcoming objections, and then they check out the product, instead of the other way around. That’s the organization you have to build. The longer your organization has been around and the larger it is, the more difficult it is to do, unless you have total C-level buy-in.
Christopher: How have you dealt with the common problems of “That’s not my job. Those aren’t our roles. We’re too small to do that. We’re too big to do that.”?
Brian: The easiest way to sell the content team is, this is the new lead generation. You’ll see all these reports about how CEOs have no faith in marketers, they think it’s the sales people who do everything. So you have to tell them we’re going to get you better and more leads. That’s how you sell it. By the time we make an offer to someone, it’s like 85% of the sales process is done because you’ve overcome lack of awareness, lack of trust. It’s basically the sales process where no one feels like they’ve been in a sales process. It’s lead generation that works better.
Greg: When I start hearing “That’s not our job,” I say thanks, but no thanks, and move on. Don’t spend time fighting those battles. If you’re not willing to make the commitment, one of your competitors is. If you’re a smaller operation and you’re objecting, you’re going to be in a world of pain because corporate America is starting to catch on. You have to be willing, from an agency standpoint, to not take that gig. If we don’t honestly believe we can get them to fix those problems so we can do what we do and succeed, it doesn’t matter if they hire us for two years. At the end of the day, I need a win. I need to show other people what we’ve been able to do, and pay the bills.
Christopher: To further support your positions, the chief marketing officer’s time line in a company is growing. Turnover used to be very fast. They’re suddenly now powered with a lot of information, and drive the business in many different directions. Have you all seen this? Or is it still too early for everyone?
Greg: The caffeine’s kicking in.
Christopher: So that brings us to strategy and execution, and we’ll go deeper into that. There’s conversations about how offline and online are being integrated. A lot of things occur outside your website that bring people to your website. How do we manage resources in our organizations to achieve goals?
Greg: Is this where I can rail about the general marketing thing? The buzz word in 2013 will be agile marketing. The zealots pitching that as the way to go are pitching it that way, and software is becoming a dirty word. It’s code for “throw shit against the wall and see what sticks.” For me, it’s really about strategic agility. You have to have a plan, map it out, know where you’re going, and be agile in that chunk. Some companies doing it are getting some wins, but it kills me when I see companies looking just two weeks ahead. You have to map things out ahead of time.
Brian: He’s right. Strategy is essential. The research you do—it’s the equivalent of a buyer persona. If you identify those and then address them, it doesn’t change. What changes is the implementation. You ride the winners and discard the losers. That’s how I started. I had no relationships, nothing. Then I figured out what would work, and the blog took off. That’s what I mean by agile. I built an audience to sell them stuff. That’s agile. This all comes from the hard marketing side. No kumbaya social media person wants to admit that, but it’s true. It’s an enduring relationship that grows on a content basis, but it’s certainly not kumbaya. Even though Sonia’s hair is pink.
Christopher: How do you deal with integrating the results of all those efforts? How do you duplicate an offline business model online? How do you get people to recognize that opportunity?
Greg: The first step is making the commitment, especially from the agency side, to learn what all the offline stuff is. Loren Baker spends more time asking clients about what they’re doing offline than anything. Your offline advertising absolutely impacts your rankings. We see clients rise organically because of radio ads. Brand queries are the best thing you could ever get. They’re the signal that allows Google to associate your brand with a generic phrase. When those spikes happen, it affects your visibility. We want to know ahead of time if a client is going to be doing a pitch so we can look at the data, and we can plan ahead, and create content that targets that campaign in the speicific local areas. It takes a willingness to learn about the boring stuff. It’s really cool when you get them working together.
Brian: I have a different perspective. We got to 100K customers without ever advertising. We’re starting to experiment with PPC. Sometimes that will convert better than sending them to a sales page. I never want to be in a business where I compete on price. If you compare it to traditional advertising, you’ll see it’s the same thing. The mindset needs to shift to creating content. Creating content is hard, but social media is amazing for distribution. You can still use PPC, radio, TV—don’t send them to your Facebook page. What are you doing? I think people are finally figuring out Zuckerberg isn’t your friend. It’s getting people to shift away from brand advertising, not 100%, but trying a mix of things. Thsi is the most data-driven measurable environment ever.
Greg: Who’s hear radio spot where they tell you to go Google them? That’s brilliant. Even if they don’t come up #1, the PPC ads will come up, and you’ll create a spike in branded search.
Brian: If you tell people to do that, you should be ranking #1. If they click the PPC ad, you can send them to a tailored page. I think the problem is, the people who handle the offline are into maintaining the status quo.
Greg: In-house PR is usually the enemy. They don’t want to share with you. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the PR team push something out and I’ve said, “Wow, that was this close to being awesome. It’s a piece of shit now, but it was almost awesome.” If they’d coordinated with us, it would have been awesome. They’re so territorial and protective of that traditional method. That’s not what we do. When we do get the rare situation where the PR team likes and embraces us, it’s huge. It allows you to be more creative and connect those dots. That’s the other buzz word—inbound marketing. I hate that word. When you try a little of everything and pick what works, you’ll have much more success.
Christopher: A lot of information occurs offline, and a lot of companies don’t want to share that with you. Your business is no longer linear. When you’re working with organizations, or as a consultancy, where businesses will say can you just give me a list of what I need to do? Matt Cutts said not to do this. How do you activate assets.
Greg: Prioritization. Giving a client a list of what’s broken is not what we do. It’s about giving them the skill set to figure out what needs to be done in what order. The younger kids in this business like to see the most obvious thing that’s broken, to get buy-in. But we have to look at that whole mess and see what needs to be done first. You need to empower your team and listen to those arguments. I usually come in as the third party, unbiased, able to give direction. There are limited assets. You have to fight to get the data you need for that prioritization. So many companies don’t share their PPC data, even internally. That’s the first thing we ask clients. Can we see your PPC data? If not, why? If I know what’s working for paid, I can build content strategies. The phrases in that data will steer the content ideas. But 90% of the time, internal teams won’t cough that up. So decisions get made, and they’re wrong. The time isn’t taken to get the data, so the decisions are inaccurate, and that annoys me.
Brian: Priority is key. And consistency. I had the luxury of being very consistent with one strategy, then social media came along, then blogs, it all came out of being consistent with a strategy. You hear the marketing tactic du jour, you try it for a month, it doesn’t work, so you go try something else. Think like a media company. They wouldn’t hop from strategy to strategy. They’ll have a plan based on data and feedback. If you have that mindset and commit to it, you get all the fruits of social and search. The consultants and agencies have to help the small business people. They don’t have the resources for it.
Greg: It’s a tough gig.
Christopher: The reason we didn’t create a PowerPoint is we preferred to just give these different perspectives. We tried to have a balanced conversation, and I think we did.
Greg: The biggest lesson I’ve learned at BlueGlass, it doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, the problems are the same. We had to figure out we had some of the same problems as our clients. We invested a lot of time and made a lot of mistakes to retool and restructure to practice what we preach. We don’t do paid advertising. We don’t do conference sponsorships. We have a great blog, we do events like this, and that’s it. We’ve been able to grow at a comfortable rate because of it. Learning how to walk the walk has allowed us to sell it to clients better.
Brian: I think you’ve got buy-in now. The content thing is beyond the evangelist stage. In my experience, the marketing has always been the easy part. Most businesses suffer from enough lead generation, enough revenue. It’s pretty easy to figure out here’s what we’re doing and where we’re going. Copyblogger has grown faster than expected, and that’s a good thing. What we’re doing works. It’s a fully integrated strategy.
Greg: When I first started reading Copyblogger, he was preaching content before it was popular to do that. I thought, yeah that’s great, but I’ll do it when I need to do it. But that gap has closed dramatically. What’s happening now is there are still holes in the algorithm, and some people are still getting away with the brute force tactics, but those days are coming to an end. Content really is the only way to go at this point. It’s not just about links. Links are what you end up with when everything is done correctly. That’s where we are. Google doing filtering like they do, that gap is going to continue to close. Get out ahead of it now. If you do it now, you create a much bigger barrier to entry for your competitors. By the time they recover and get back, you’re so much more entrenched, it’s more difficult for them to overtake you. You have to think longer term.
Brian: E-mail is still the best sales channel. I took the approach of audience and then products, so Google loves us. If something goes wrong and Google doesn’t like you anymore, you can come back from it.
Whew! How’s that for a first session?! Pretty fantastic, I think. Lots of great information, and more to come. Keep an eye on the blog all day for more BlueGlassX coverage!