Episode 3: Content Strategy for SaaS Companies with Diana Mitchell, Digital Marketing Consultant

Transcript:

Monica Evans:

This is the Marketing Hero podcast by ClearPivot, turning marketers into heroes. Welcome to Marketing Hero podcast. I'm your host, Monica Evans. I'm super excited about our guest today. Diana Mitchell is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with numerous clients, helping them increase their ROI on their content investment. Welcome Diana.

Diana Mitchell:

Thank you for having me, Monica.

Monica Evans:

It's been a while since we've chatted. How are you doing?

Diana Mitchell:

I am doing well and just trying to get through these crazy times.

Monica Evans:

Yeah. Aren't we all? Tell the audience a little bit about yourself and what you've done for your clients.

Diana Mitchell:

Well, I've been a marketing consultant now for nine years. And before that I worked in agencies and non-profits and all the good stuff, the steps that so many marketers go through in their careers. And I work with clients primarily B2B, some B2C and help them leverage their marketing investment. I find, and I'm sure you find this as well, there's so many companies, they say they do marketing with the air quotes, but they think it doesn't work because they're like, we're not making anything off of it. And so they're kind of lacking that connection, that strategic tie. And so I help companies kind of bridge that gap and see real ROI through primarily content social, but really all digital.

Monica Evans:

Have you noticed that working with clients, does there tend to be this disconnect with their brand as well?

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah. Well, I mean, in the notion of brand, when you talk about that, so many companies, they think they know what their brand is. And I think that's the biggest gap is that they don't actually know who they are. And I know that sounds really simplistic or even a little obnoxious, but so many companies focus on the brand that they want to put forth, that they don't actually understand how they're coming across. So yeah, there's a massive disconnect there. And the notion of brand is something that I think is still very mystical if you will, to companies. So it takes someone to come in and bring that outside perspective and say, well, hold on a second and help align and make sure that everything's working together and is authentic as it can be.

Monica Evans:

Yeah, no, that's understandable. I think people, when they're so deep into it, they think a certain way, but an outside perspective really does help with that for sure. What kind of content pieces do you typically write for your clients?

Diana Mitchell:

It depends on the client and who they're trying to reach. But right now I would say that almost universally the inbound methodology and topic clusters and pillar content, that's going to work for just about everyone. The problem or the challenge is because we're in such a unique time with COVID, that's a mid to longterm strategy and people are looking for results right now. And so what I'm finding is that the accelerant, the fuel on the content is really robust social strategy, primarily on LinkedIn, which I'm sure you've seen. Is that LinkedIn has seen some crazy increases in not just logins, but like engagement. People are actually active on this platform almost universally again, since however when. I mean, certainly since Microsoft bought LinkedIn, but ... So yeah, that's the accelerant you need to put on the fire. So keep investing in the mid long term, invest in that content strategy, but use social to get it out there now and not necessarily just wait for the organic leads to come in.

Monica Evans:

I mean, now is the perfect time. You do have the time to kind of focus on that while simultaneously trying to get leads now. So can you explain for the audience what a topic cluster is? Because there might be some people that don't quite understand what that is and how it works for their content strategy.

Diana Mitchell:

Sure. Yeah. In the most simplistic terms, it's creating content that works in the way that Google wants to find content. So the days of ... I mean, and this can happen and we've all seen it happen, but the days of writing one blog post with a bunch of instances of one keyword, and then all of a sudden ranking number one, or even page one are over. Google's looking for more sophisticated content. They're looking for a wealth of content from a site or a thought leader rather than individual posts. And so to work with Google's algorithm, the again, mystical algorithm that we talk about as marketers so often, but to business owners, they just kind of glaze over. But to work with Google's algorithm, you need to create a web almost of content on your site.

And so the longer form content is what I'm referring to as a pillar content and that's a very long authoritative piece that gets granular, but also taps in at a high level and some really key points on a broader topic. And then you're shorter, what most people think of as a blog post, those are going to kind of be the spokes off of that main pillar. And they're all going to align with that broad topic, but get into the more granular elements of it. Together, they kind of draw this little web or like an atom, if you look at the picture and that helps kind of ... How do I want to describe this? It helps Google see your site as an authoritative one and then helps all of your content really performed better. And so, I'm trying to think of a really nice analogy for that. Have you got one [inaudible 00:05:19]?

Monica Evans:

No, but I think it might be worthwhile talking about the different types of topic clusters we can do. For instance, I feel like it's pretty easy if you are a consultant, right? You can talk about at a high level, if you're a marketing agency, you can talk about marketing for a SaaS company, marketing for any specific industry and build that as your topic cluster and then small pieces around that as well. But for a SaaS company, it might be a little different because you're selling your products. So how would you say for a SaaS company developing a pillar page, what should they focus on? The product benefits themselves, like the actual products or the services or the problems that they solve, how would you kind of categorize that?

Diana Mitchell:

You pulled it right from my brain. I mean, and there's one way to look at it too. If you're a verticalized SaaS, then of course, you're going to go into those specific elements and form the vertical that you're serving, or if you serve multiple verticals. I mean, you could still do that the way that we described for marketers, but I personally would definitely go with the problem that you're solving and then bringing in your solution as the solution inherently in that content you. But the thing is ironically, that's what I would go with first, but you can experiment and try all of the above and you can take those different approaches. And I think that's the beauty of it. And as long as you're creating value within that content, there's no such thing in my opinion, as a waste of content. But certainly as long as you have a strategy behind it, and that strategy ties into your larger marketing strategy, which aligns with your business strategy, you're not going to go wrong there, but I would say start with the problems.

Most people nowadays are searching, the long tail keywords are asking questions. They're not necessarily looking for what you have to offer, so if you want to get in front of them talking about your product or your solution over and over again, isn't necessarily going to get you anywhere.

Monica Evans:

Yeah, no, I totally agree with that. And how many different topic clusters is normal for a company to focus on?

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah. Well tell me if you agree, but I would say a good five or six is a nice place to start.

Monica Evans:

Yeah, you don't want to overwhelm, you obviously don't want 20 topic clusters because then where is your differentiator? You're basically just trying to get all, capture all keywords people are searching for, and you're not truly differentiating yourself. So I would agree with you, probably five or six, no more than six, because then you're overlapping with the other services and/or offers and benefits that you provide.

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah. And it's unlikely, you would be scraping the bottom of the barrel if you were trying to come up with 20.

Monica Evans:

Yeah, exactly. And the thing about these pillar pages too, is that they have to be worth reading. Right? You can't talk about a topic for six to 7,000 words and it not be engaging, which then kind of leads me to my next question, what's the best way to kind of format these pillar pages in terms of content? Does it make sense to include videos or graphics like infographics, that kind of stuff?

Diana Mitchell:

Well, yeah. I mean, remember at the heart of everything, it still needs to be readable and engaging just like you said. So yeah, for sure. Anything that's going to add or make it easier to digest and process what's in this piece because it is so robust, is going to be helpful. I mean, in structure wise, again, even though it's unlikely someone's going to be reading a 6,000 word post on their phone, you still want to be in that scrolling mentality. You want to think about how much time someone's going to spend reading and I mean, hey, maybe your content is completely engrossing and someone's going to sit and spend 20 minutes reading it, but it's more likely they're going to get to what's most important to them. So having that like TOC, a table of content at the top and making it clickable and easy, anchor text and making it easy for them to find the points and parts that are relevant is going to help you tremendously.

But then yes, of course, if you can save someone from having to read 1500 words by putting it in a three minute video or an infographic that explains your concept at a high level, then you're going to, of course have more people pulling more value from what you're writing. And well, we want to drive traffic, of course, creating these topic clusters, like you said, it's all about value because traffic is one thing. But if you're not providing that value, if you're not answering that question or solving that problem, even in a high level or showing your expertise, then there's no incentive for that traffic to become a lead. You got to make sure that it's always value first. All the strategy in the world is important, but if your content is all about you and it's not offering value, then it's going to fall flat.

Monica Evans:

Definitely. And I think it's also important to note too, is that within that pillar page, you're linking to your other pages and those other pages are linking back because I think that's what truly gets Google to understand that this is your overall topic cluster, and then the ones that are linking out and linking in are your sub-topics around that topic cluster. So categorizing that in a way. So with that in mind, how do you typically work with your clients and developing a strategy for them like this?

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah. Well, there's a really in depth discovery process that ... I mean, because anyone can come in and pretty easily look at a company and say, okay, you offer X, Y and Z, we should be writing about A, B and C, but it really isn't that simple. And so you kind of want to take a step back. I mean, certainly if they've done the leg work and they have personas and interviews and all the light work that really gets to the heart of who they are and what their customers need, then that makes my job easy. Then I can kind of step into that part of the process and get going. But I find that most companies don't, they either are at a point in SaaS especially, they either were kind of riding on the owner, the founders doing all the work themselves, or maybe they had a junior person coming in.

And so they were lacking that more senior level strategic insight to make sure that you kind of have those foundational pieces. And so primarily I'm going to be going back, I'm going to be having those customer interviews. I'm going to be getting to the heart of why they chose that client, why they chose that solution, what that client does well, what they don't do well and just kind of getting more insight into who they are as a brand. And that, sometimes you find that those answers are surprising and so understanding those problems can help you tailor the clusters. And so I think that any marketing consultant, no matter what you're doing, you need that discovery process. And you really, because ... and you may have seen this too, but there's a big trend on LinkedIn lately of people dogging for lack of a better phrase, consultants or freelancers. And that's because so many come in and we're in a really rough economy right now and they are transactional. They're focusing on deliverables. And so it's missing that heart and that authenticity of the brand.

When in reality, a senior level consultant is going to come in and they're going to become a part of your team. They're going to get to know you and get underneath the skin to really get who you are and be able to convey that into effective marketing and that's the difference. When I do something for a client, it feels like I've been with them since the beginning. And that's how it should be.

Monica Evans:

Yeah, no, I think that, that all make sense to me. I feel like there are a lot of people that just come in and be like, oh, we can do the traditional four blogs a month and that, but that doesn't really move the needle for most people. They need more of a customized content calendar for them to really see a difference in organic search. Does a SaaS company with a sales person, lead sales process need to have a different content strategy than a company with a self-served sales process?

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah, that's a really good question. And probably even two years ago, I would have said yes, and you need to establish more personal voices and you really need to stress that with personal life. But actually, no, I would say that universally now you should establish voices for people on your team because, and I hate to use these like buzz words, but we really aren't a human-to-human marketing era. And so the generic brand posted with no author blog posts aren't as effective. And so I would actually ... I mean, a few of those are fine, I guess. And maybe for pillar content in particular, that's really not a bad thing, but I would say show the authority of your team, especially when we talk about connecting content to social, the more personal the content can feel, the more authentically someone can share and promote that content on social and bring in really well qualified traffic to read it.

I don't think it's an absolute necessary, but I think that it would definitely give you a boost. And so there's a little bit of a challenge there for some people in that your sales team or your leadership or whomever is going to freak out and say, I don't have time time to write these. But again, when you're working with an experienced senior level consultants, and well, someone like me, like anyone who's got that experience can draw out the nuggets that you need to make it authentic and personal and have a 15 minute conversation on the topic, bring in their expertise with your expertise and create something that feels authentically you and also aligns with your company brand. And when that happens, not to sound cute, but it's really magic. It is.

And then all of a sudden you've got members of the team who are, they're more confident because they feel like their expertise is on display by the company. And they're also buying in more to your marketing plan. Because there's a lot of adversarial tone sometimes between sales and marketing and this can really help bridge the gap when people feel like their voices are heard and they're individually being presented as thought leaders. So there's a lot of wind to that methodology.

Monica Evans:

Yeah. I didn't really think about that, but I think it does actually play a big role in the people who are writing the content as well.

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah. And when you're dealing with a CSM or whatever the case may be, when you're dealing with a SaaS company, you're still dealing with individuals once you become a customer. So why not build that trust and those interpersonal relationships before, at different stages of the funnel through your content?

Monica Evans:

Yeah. No, that totally makes sense. So let's take a step back and think, we've talked about the topic clusters and how to try to get people in, get new leads, that kind of stuff, but there's a whole world of content strategy beyond that as well. So could we talk a little bit about once we get top of funnel content, middle of funnel, bottom of funnel, but once somebody becomes a customer there's this kind of like customer success side too, is getting people upsells, especially for SaaS companies getting upsells, getting new like just referrals, that kind of stuff. So what type of content would that look like for a SaaS company?

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah, that's a great question actually. And it all comes back to, again, that kind of exploratory foundational knowledge and it really more than the content itself, it comes down to the conversations that your team is continuing to have with customers, because as much as you're providing a solution, there's always going to be those gaps and those next steps and achievement for them. And so it's really lasering in and having real conversations and asking them how they're doing or what struggles they're continuing to have. And certainly from content, you can answer those directly and easily as well. But you can also not to continue to push social as well, but they've worked so well together.

You can answer those questions and help to solve those problems by providing the what and the why, this is what you need and here's why you need it and offering that inherent value whereas what you're selling is the how, or maybe in your social posts, you have the what and the why, and then your content is the how at a high level, but in reality for implementation, they need to come to you. And so it's identifying those parts of the answer that are going to pique their interest enough while also showing that you can solve that problem, and then the content just solidifies that.

And distribution is going to be key too, so how are you going to get this in front of them? I mean, and it could be as simple as a CSM saying, hey, I know you mentioned the other day that you were struggling with X, we've actually put together something on that. Or just making that a very fluid and organic part of your conversations with the client as well. Certainly you could do an email, you can do a drip campaign or a workflow or something like that too. But I think the more that you can bring in that interpersonal element, the more impactful it's going to be for you.

Monica Evans:

Yeah, no. And I was thinking about this too, about tutorial videos on how to best use the product and that kind of stuff. And incorporating that into your kind of workflows or providing that for the managers of that account to be able to utilize that, to speak with the customers as well.

Diana Mitchell:

That's a great idea, actually. Yes. And so when you have a new customer, as part of their onboarding process, kind of building that in as a workflow that goes out when they're on, and like, hey, we know you probably have a lot of questions and of course we're here to help, but in the meantime, here's this series of quick videos to help make sure that you're comfortable using the tool or something like that, that's great. And it can also be a mix of things. It could be one video, it could be a link. And then, you could bring in SlideShare or something else too. You never know what's going to hit. And so a lot of testing is going to be important here too. And just feedback, asking questions.

Monica Evans:

And for a company that is looking to start, like they're starting fresh. Their product has sold itself, but now they're really trying to move the needle a bit and try to get new people. What do you recommend starting off first for a company like that?

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah. That's going to go back to that discovery process and the main problems that you're solving for your clients. And so start there and make sure that everybody's on board with understanding at a deep level, why you're answering those questions at that point. And then it's setting up the architecture to bring that in, certainly the HubSpot, you're going to need an expert to come in and help you implement that. I think you would be perfect for that, by the way.

Monica Evans:

Oh, thank you.

Diana Mitchell:

And yes, it's bringing in the low hanging fruit, start there. And then I find that with clients too, when you start there with the low hanging fruit, and you start to get those leads are generating, it's such a good high for lack of a better word. You start to see quicker that it works, and then you're more willing to invest in it and see that snowball effect. And it's so true because when you get those quick, early hits, it shows you that it works. And a lot of times when you're dealing with these companies, maybe they tried something and they feel like it hasn't worked, or they've been afraid to try because they've heard of other people. So when you can give them that quick success, it immediately legitimizes what you're doing for them and shows them that by continuing to invest that they're going to see some dramatic impact on their own [inaudible 00:20:27].

Monica Evans:

And what type of metrics would you say people should look for when they're creating this content?

Diana Mitchell:

It may vary depending, but really of course you want to look at traffic, but don't worry about it. It's like when people say in social, I didn't get any likes, so I don't give a crap about your likes, but if somebody clicked that link and came to your website and then downloaded something and then really like, there you go. I start with traffic. I don't necessarily stress about some of the other stuff, but I mean, ultimately it's traffic engagement, where they're clicking, bounce rate, how long are they staying on the page? Are they really reading it? Where are they going next? And of course, ultimately, are they converting?

Monica Evans:

And do you think its worthwhile companies to look at their previous content, see how it would perform in the past and maybe giving it a little fresher, and then republishing it and how that can actually throw benefits to your website overall too. I mean, it might not have been ranking before, tweak a little bit, do all you need on the front end and you'll see tremendous results. I mean, is that something that you recommend people to do as well with the content they've created in the past?

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah. If they have, absolutely. I mean, again, we're talking about ROI here and so you've already spent effort and/or time, and definitely cost whether you hire someone to do it, or you have the internal cost of someone writing it, without a doubt, go through scrub, see what you have, see how you can bring it and make something relevant or simply better or better adhering to marketing standards. Instead of saying what you want to say, saying what people need to hear, to feel, to get value. And also, I mean, there's a lot of value. Oftentimes you've written pieces that align with your upcoming topic clusters. And so bringing those in can make everything work more powerfully as well.

Monica Evans:

Yeah. And lastly, before we wrap up this interview, I think there's been a lot of confusion too, between what types of content they need to write for ads versus just content on the website. What's the differentiator there? What type of content should you have in front of say Google ads or LinkedIn ads versus what you'll just have on the website, on your blog?

Diana Mitchell:

The simplest way that I can describe that is, think about the last thing that you clicked on and then think about why you clicked. So it's a mindset shift and knowing that the goal of an ad is to get some of the click. You shouldn't be selling your company, you shouldn't even necessarily be selling a topic or whatever, you need to get them to click, relevant, obviously relevant, not a bait switch. And then with the content you're hoping to convert that click into a lead, you're hoping to provide value at the very least so that they're willing to come back and see the next post in the series. So it's a long haul, but just focus on ads is the whole point of the copy in your ad is to get a click, then let that do the work.

And it's the same thing, whenever time, but getting someone to your website think of the spokes in the wheel and your website, and your content is the hub and then all the little spokes are coming off. You just want to get somebody to that hub and then let that do the work. And then ultimately you want your website to convert your traffic into a lead, so that your sales team can then do their job. So when you start to compartmentalize what each role is in the process, it makes it a lot easier to implement. When you realize that your website isn't necessarily supposed to sell for you, that depends. I know we were talking about the sales teams, but generally speaking, remember everyone's job and every one can also mean everything, and then really ensure that everything is in line with those expectations and then things will work together more seamlessly.

Monica Evans:

Yeah, no, I definitely agree with that. I think one thing that companies have a hard time with is when they're going to see results. And I think it's important to note that, like you mentioned earlier on that there's a longterm kind of thing that you're working towards and also the short term and any kind of content strategy is always a longterm. You could do ads and stuff to get things moving quickly, but you shouldn't take away from the fact that you need to develop that longterm strategy as well.

Diana Mitchell:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm sure you do too, but I've had clients who I wrote a post for them seven years ago, and they're still getting leads from that or landing clients from that piece of content today. And so, it really is the snowball effect and the more valuable content that you create, the more leads you're going to drive in time. So it really is an investment, stopping and starting. I mean, I understand the realities for some people, but stopping and starting or dipping your toe in, this is not how you can do it. You have to go all in. You have to understand and believe in the methodology. And when you do that and you commit to it, you're absolutely going to see results. I mean, there's no sure thing in marketing.

Monica Evans:

So we end our interviews with a question of, if you were a superhero, what would you be or who would you be, I guess?

Diana Mitchell:

Who would you be? Well, my name is Diana, which means that as a child, my hero was Wonder Woman. And so she stands for good and truth and does things the wrong way, while also kicking ass.

Monica Evans:

I agree. That was a good choice. Well, thanks Diana, I really appreciate you being on the call. Also, she has a podcast that she's launching, Mom to Be, correct?

Diana Mitchell:

That's right. Yes.

Monica Evans:

You'll have to check her out.

Diana Mitchell:

Thank you very much.

Monica Evans:

You've been listening to the Marketing Hero podcast by ClearPivot, be sure to join us next time. For more information, visit www.clearpivot.com.

 

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