What's the best way to develop a content strategy that reflects the reality of today's buyer journey?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Ashley Faus, who is the Content Strategy Lead for Software Teams at Atlassian, shares why she thinks a playground provides a better analogy than a funnel for marketers looking to develop their content strategy.
She also goes into how to use the concept of a content playground to provide your customers and prospects with a better buying experience.
Highlights from my conversation with Ashley include:
Many marketers use the concepts of the linear funnel and the looping decision journey to develop their content strategies, but Ashley says that those don't reflect the reality of how people buy.
Much like in a playground, where there isn't a singular goal (get to the top of the jungle gym!), your prospects aren't always ready to buy and may have other interests. For this reason, a playground offers a better analogy.
Rather than forcing prospects to follow a specific journey that we as marketers have determined is ideal, Ashley recommends focusing on creating strong content depth that allows your prospects to follow their own journey, wherever it takes them.
For smaller teams that are just getting started, Ashley recommends identifying your "hedgehog principle" - that one thing you do better than everyone else - and creating a very in-depth piece of content on that.
Then, you can use that content to repurpose into a variety of assets that can be used on social media, for your trade shows, in the sales process, etc.
The key is to find a topic that is substantive enough to support the development of this amount of content.
In terms of how this content gets presented on your website, Ashley recommends ungating it, and then being very explicit with your CTAs so that your website visitors know exactly what they will get if they click a button.
She also suggests adding a related content module on your site to encourage visitors to browse through your content.
The best way to begin measuring the impact of your strategy is to use simple tools like Google Analytics in combination with UTMs. As you grow, you can use more sophisticated marketing automation software like HubSpot or Marketo.
Listen to the podcast to learn why envisioning your buyer's journey — and their interactions with your content — as a playground is a more effective way to approach the development of a content strategy.
I'm your host Kathleen Booth. And this week my guest is Ashley FOSS, who is the content strategy lead for software teams at Atlassian. Welcome Ashley.
Ashley Faus (Guest): Nice to be here. Thanks so much for having me. I'm so happy to have you here.
Ashley and Kathleen recording this episode.
Kathleen: And, and for those who are listening, you can't see it. But Ashley has an awesome virtual Zoom background of the golden gate bridge.
That's one of my favorite things about the pandemic is that it is revealing people's personalities through the Zoom backgrounds that they choose.
Ashley: It's been interesting. I actually think didn't have the latest version of Zoom. I got scared that if I upgraded and something went wrong, I wouldn't have access to it.
So for a long time I was the lame person that didn't have a background and it was just my kitchen the whole time. So yes, I finally upgraded.
Tell any of the listeners that are hesitant, you can upgrade. And it's not going to ruin your computer. And you, too, can have a nice virtual backgrounds.
Kathleen: Oh yeah. For our all hands meetings at my office. We've been having so much fun with just seeing the backgrounds that people come to these meetings with. It's, it's awesome. It reveals so much about their personalities.
About Ashley and Atlassian
Kathleen: But so we have so much to talk about.
And the first thing I want to talk about is really have you explain to my listeners what Atlassian is, and then also your background and what led you to your current role as Content Strategy Lead.
Ashley: Sure. So Atlassian is a collaboration software maker.
A lot of people are very familiar with JIRA, Confluence, Trello, Bitbucket, Status Page. We have a number of different products that people use all the time. JIRA especially is a staple for software teams.
So I actually started at Atlassian two and a half years ago and I moved among a couple of different teams.
My background is primarily marketing, but I actually started on the corporate communications team, moved over to editorial, doing a mix of content strategy, social media, thought leadership for the corporate side, and then just recently made the move over onto software teams.
One thing that's kind of interesting and great is having that diverse background has given me that ability to move across different areas and go where my skills can be most useful.
So I'm excited to dive in.
I'm fairly new to the role, so it's been an interesting transition to try to onboard from home and then also start to get up to speed both from a content standpoint and a strategy standpoint, and then also from a tactical standpoint of where are all the different boards, where's the JIRA tickets?
Like what's the process, what are the meetings?
So, um, it's been fun. It's been fun.
Kathleen: I will definitely say as far as Atlassian is concerned, I've been a user of so many of the company's products. I've used Confluence and JIRA. I'm currently using Trello. I know our dev team uses a number of products as well.
It's a great company and a great suite of products, especially for anybody who's practicing agile, which I have done a few times.
And so that was another reason I was excited to talk to you.
But one of the things I think is really interesting is, you know, you mentioned you're relatively new in the role and we were just talking before we came on and you were explaining how your fiscal year, it's going to change over pretty soon.
And so not only are you relatively new in the role, but you're being thrust into the situation of having to plan and strategize for a whole new year in the middle of the pandemic, no less all of these things happening at once.
Your current focus is on content and I was really fascinated by how you think about content and content strategy planning and this concept of the content playground. So could you talk a little bit about that and what do you mean when you say a content playground?
What is a content playground?
Ashley: I started thinking about it because I needed a new metaphor. Everybody that I talked to was talking about primarily the linear funnel.
And you know, you've got your three phases with your editorial calendar and you say, "I need three content, three pieces of content per phase. I'm going to do one per month. Cool.
Now I have nine months of content strategy, if my math works out."
Most of your listeners are probably sitting there going, "That's not how you do content strategy. You can't just say one piece of content per phase and then call it."
Kathleen: Wouldn't it be nice if you could though?
Ashley: You bought a calendar, write three articles and you're done.
Then, you know, I know a lot of people have moved on to the looping decision journey where you basically add a fourth phase in there. And you're kind of almost recycling these people, but now there's a cross sell or upsell, but somehow you're dumping them back into that awareness phase from the linear funnel.
If you look at the Google results for both the linear funnel and the looping decision funnel, it's kind of terrifying. It's very confusing. It basically just shows that we all agree that humans don't work this way. Nobody just goes politely down our little funnel.
The 10-3-1 conversion was kind of the standard for a long time. You get 10 people in awareness. A certain amount of drops. So you get three into consideration to be able to get one to that kind of purchase decision.
I was really wrestling with this because I was like, how do you create content in a way that allows people to do what they actually do, which is enter and exit and go sideways and all of that?
So I had originally come up with this idea of a jungle gym. But there's two problems with that — mainly that there's only one objective. It's either to get to the top or, if you're my three year old nephew, it's to go across without touching the lava below that.
It's still me as a marketer forcing you into what I want you to do and it's taking all these touch points and saying, what's the fewest number of touch points that I can use to get you to a purchase?
And yes, ultimately we need to sell products. Ultimately we have to make money as businesses, but it feels bad to everybody to just constantly be like, are you just trying to sell me something? Like what's the catch? I don't really trust you because I know you're trying to sell me.
So if you look at an actual playground though, what's the point of the playground?
Is the person who's sitting on the bench just enjoying the sunshine? Are they enjoying the playground the wrong way? No, actually perfectly acceptable. Sit on the bench.
Again, you know, thinking about what the right way is to play on the playground for the adults and the playground designers, going down the slide is the right way. Three year old nephew, every time wants to go up the slide.
If you translate that to content strategy, I recently had an example of this where in the traditional funnel, pricing is considered a very bottom of funnel action. If I'm asking you about price, man, I'm ready to buy.
Well, in my case, I needed to go ask for budget before I could even do the RFP and I had no idea what that budget should be for. It was going to be a SaaS product. So understanding, you know, the subscription, SLA, the licensing tiers, all of that.
And so I started reaching out to some vendors in the space asking them for just ballpark pricing so I could go get budget.
And so many of them were like, well, allow me to send you a white paper about why this matters a lot and you know, Oh, you need to do a demo.
And I'm like, Nope, I don't want to waste my time going through your traditional funnel when I don't even know if I have a budget yet.
Kathleen: I have to just interject there and say amen because this has been a frustration of mine for so long. I had this recently with a marketing software product. It was exactly what you're talking about.
It was last November and I was working on my budget and I knew that I was not going to purchase this product until halfway through 2020. And that was even before all this craziness with the pandemic hit.
But I needed a placeholder number for it in my budget. So there's no chance I was going to engage in, like multi meetings and demos and hours long calls with people to pitch me what I know I'm not ready to buy yet.
I just needed a price.
There's nothing more frustrating than companies that make it that hard and it wasn't a one time thing. I just found myself doing this yesterday.
Somebody started talking about email signature software and they mentioned the name of a new company, and I literally Googled the company name and pricing because I was like, I don't even want to waste my time looking at everything else and getting excited about it if I can't afford it.
Ashley: Yeah, well, and it's interesting too because once I got the budget approved, I was already completely sold that this problem needed to be solved. I just needed to get management on board that yes, we are committed to solving this problem.
So then I actually got into the sales process and you know, I started kind of at the top of that and I just said, look, I'm bought in, draw me all the way down to the bottom of the funnel and I want you to just pitch me.
Ashley: It blew the sales people's minds. And they're like, well, let me just go through the deck. I'm like, no, no, no, no, no. I don't know how many slides you have, but I'm telling you I'm bought in, I agree with you.
This has impact. It solves a problem that I have. I have money, here's what my budget is. I'm BANT qualified. I need you to drop me all the way in and I need you to sell me.
A majority of them just froze because they didn't know how to go through there. They only know how to do this step by step. And that's where I think the content playground comes in.
Obviously there's a sales component to this too. When you do get people who just want to jump right in, I wouldn't send them to play on the swings.
That's what we're doing right now. We're spending all our time on the swings.
Let's just do it. Quit trying to force them to go down the slide.
It's so funny because people have this idea that there's a specific way that you're supposed to build the relationship and you're supposed to, you know, okay, let's get you through the marketing funnel and get you through MQL and then SQL and then a sale.
And it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes you meet somebody and they come at you and they're like, no, I'm literally ready to sign on the dotted line, whether it's you or one of your competitors. So why should it be you?
Kathleen: Yeah. And not only is that an issue, but it's like I'm going to sign and it's going to be fast. So if you can't meet my fast timeline, just get out of my way.
Exactly. That's so interesting. I love that concept.
How to use the concept of a content playground to develop your content strategy
Kathleen: So give me an example of, conceptually, how does that play out in terms of developing and executing your strategy?
Ashley: I've done this at a number of different companies and then we also, you know, do this similar type of thing, whether you see whether you recognize it and call it a content playground or not.
When you start to recognize companies that do it because you go through and there's a nice experience to say, Oh, I've kind of landed in this problem space or solution space and now I have the ability to go explore.
So we've done that quite a bit in it last year and moving into this content strategy role on software teams, I'm getting exposed to some great ways that they've done it.
So for example, we have this agile microsite and then we paired that last year with this agile coach series. This is all work that has been done that I'm excited to come in and kind of optimize and see how can we replicate this across other content types.
And it basically says, you know, yes, JIRA helps you run in an agile way, but if you don't have the right practices set up and you don't have that mindset in those processes, a tool is not the thing that's going to fix it for you.
And so sure we can sell you JIRA, but if we don't show you the right way to set up the workflows, if we don't help you have acceptable standups, if we don't help you improve your retros, having these things on a board is not going to solve, you know, your agility problems.
And so putting that together, if you look at it from a content depth standpoint, instead of organizing around specific phases of the funnel, organizing it around content depth.
So from a conceptual standpoint, what the heck is agile? Why does it matter? What kinds of success, you know, have people seen with it, what are the problems from a strategy standpoint, what are the practices and rituals?
So that's where you get into some of the standups. That's where you get into some of the retros. And then from a tactic standpoint, how do you actually do those things?
And so we have a number of things from the agile coach series, from the agile microsite and also our team playbook, which talks about things like my user manual. So how do you work together as a team?
Um, putting together project coasters for kickoffs. And then yes, there's some product demos in there. There's some guides in there, there's some tutorials, there's here workflows that you can set up to do that in JIRA or to do that in Trello.
But it's really that full content experienced to say, I just need help figuring out how to run my standups or my retros. And then, cool that I can do that in JIRA as well.
So I previously worked at Duarte, if you're familiar with Nancy Duarte's work. Um, she wrote Resonate, which was, you know, a big game changer for a lot of people. They do workshops, they do presentation design for tons of big names and Fortune 500 companies.
So we did this in a number of ways. When we launched her slide decks book for example, we put that as a free, ungated version on SlideShare.
And then we linked over to this kind of more traditional inbound strategy page where you've got a landing page with a form.
You give away a free piece of content, show good faith that this is good quality, and then you've got a form fill out to download some templates that people could use that would then drop people into a drip campaign where we would showcase more templates, we would showcase some use cases that we had built and give them more content to ultimately lead them to say, "Hey, if you want to buy a workshop to learn how to do this at a pro level, here's how you can do that."
Getting started with your content playground
Kathleen: So if I love the whole concept here, and I love the notion of content depth because I do think that there are so many marketers that almost try to cover too much and they skim the surface on everything and it doesn't work.
I think the thing that could be challenging about this is hearing that, like, where do you start and how do you, how do you get there?
Because you can't snap your fingers and have a lot of depth in all these topics right away. And also, how do you know what those top level topics are? If you were teaching this to somebody, how would you walk them through that?
Ashley: So there's a couple of ways that, uh, we've been able to do it at Atlassian. Obviously we're fortunate we have a large team and a ton of experts that have complimentary skills.
So for example, we have done a ton of keyword research to understand both search intent and the specific wording of that.
From a market standpoint, agile came in and changed the game, and it turns out that JIRA was actually a really good fit to run agile.
So we already kind of were keeping a pulse on the market and we started to see that agile is becoming this very mainstream thing, that our tool and our technology is really useful in helping people run. So let's focus on agile.
Okay, where do we focus?
And that's where things like SEO and keyword research, that's where focus groups, that's where digging through the feedback that your customers are giving you and asking like, what are the top questions in terms of workflows?
How do those map to things like running scrum teams or running Kanban boards?
How does that now map to workflows and guides and onboarding tutorials that we would share with somebody who starts with your product or working with Trello products, for example?
So I would say I'm doing a listening exercise and there's a number of tools. You could do it on social media as well, particularly for software devs, which is one of our core audiences. They hang out on Hacker News, they hang out on Reddit.
And so go look there. That's, that's another core tenant I think as marketers is loving the whole human and not just who are you as a buyer? I only care about you as a buyer or user.
How do I get you to engage in the product every day or buy more of the service? Okay, these people have lives.
And so if you can figure out what do they love, what are they passionate about outside of the one thing you're trying to sell them, that also gives you an entire new space to explore for thinking about what topics could you engage in.
And so, when you think about engineers, efficiency, optimization, clean and concise process is something that's very important to them.
Well what are some of the frameworks or what are some of the topics that deal with optimization that could potentially lead you to lead you to something like Six Sigma or manufacturing for example, right?
There's a lot of ways that you could think about it if you just know what do engineers generally like? And it's like, they really like efficiency.
They like optimization, they like tight, elegant solutions and just jump off from there to see, okay, what are the specific topic areas that would coincide with your product offering? And with the things that they generally care about, what does that mean?
Kathleen: And if you don't have an enormous team and you want to take this approach, how do you do it? Because I imagine you'd have a choice of like, okay, I've identified 10 areas that I want to go deep on, you know, and I could either take area number one and fully play it out and develop all the content.
Or I could do one article for each of the 10 areas and then go back and do the second article. Like how would you tackle it?
Ashley: Yeah. So one of the things that Nancy Duarte actually talks about a ton, from Jim Collins book Good to Great is this concept of the hedgehog principle. And that's if you can do one thing and be the best at it, just do that one thing.
So instead of trying to spread yourself too thin across all of those 10 topics, I would be ruthless initially in what is the thing that we actually have the ability to talk about without having to spend a ton of time and energy going and finding that expertise?
What's the thing that leads most to the product market fit, or the service market fit, whichever of those that you're selling? And then what's the thing that has depth?
This is something that I see a lot, is people start throwing topics on the board and you're like, okay, but how many words can you actually say about that thing?
And for the most part, people were like, "Whoa". And it's like you can't even say one sentence about it. How are you going to write a full article? And then that also gets into, it's not just one article, it's okay, how do we also turn that into a video?
How do we turn that into an infographic? How do we turn that into a social media post? Because this thing has to live for a lot of time.
Nobody has time to keep creating net new content all the time. And so if this piece can't be repurposed or broken apart, it probably doesn't have enough depth to chase.
So I would say if you're very first, starting from scratch, to limit it to probably two, maybe three topics that are related to each other and that you know, have depth.
And I would say especially if you're dealing with a small team, like you're at a start up and the founder is kind of the only person who could talk about this, I'm definitely limiting that to two topics that you know you have in house expertise and then doing a good job to capture that from a conceptual, strategic and tactical standpoint the first time.
And then go with the repurposing strategy.
So instead of saying, "Oh my gosh, we have to cover it, a thousand words or a 20 minute video every single time", think about it as, no, nobody wants to read that, nobody's going to scroll through all of that. So let them pick their journey of how deep they want to go.
Repurposing your content
Kathleen: So can you dig in a little bit more to that repurposing topic because I was interested to hear you discuss all the different ways that the content can manifest, because I think a lot of people might hear this and think it's a bunch of blogs, but it's, it's really not.
Ashley: One of my favorite campaigns that was super successful, there was a startup that I worked at that got acquired by Oracle called Palerra.
Palerra was a cloud access security broker, which, you know, doesn't matter as much to the majority of the audience if they're not in tech, but, basically they're kind of a complimentary security product to a lot of cloud offerings.
We were primarily an enterprise solution. Technology is a really heavy topic. And so what we did, when I came in, there was this raw word doc of just random customer interviews, and problems that they had faced.
And so for example, we all know on a personal level we should update our passwords regularly. A lot of companies have that installed where it's like 72 days time to change your password.
So at an enterprise security level, there's a similar concept for your keys to your different cloud services. And so we had a scenario where there was a customer that hadn't rotated their keys in like two years. It blew our minds. So our product actually found that.
So we actually were talking about cautionary tales and focusing specifically on AWS because that cloud offering is quite ubiquitous among our customers and these are a lot of common pitfalls that our products can help solve.
So we called it a cautionary tale. We turned it into an ebook first that then became the basis for our booth graphics at AWS Reinvent. And then we had a booth giveaway. We put an Amazon Tap in a clear box and then we had a bowl of keys sitting next to it and they looked identical. And so you drew a key and if it unlocked the box, you won the Tap.
And so that was able to lead us into, "Have you rotated your keys? How are you doing password management?" But not just those basic tactical issues, but also like how do you know there's even a working key in the bowl?
How do you know that Kathleen is supposed to have the key and not Ashley? What happens to the keys after the show? So let's say Kathleen and Ashley both leave and the bowls just sitting there. Now what happens to the keys? Right?
And our product can help with that. And from a security standpoint, those are a lot of blind spots that at the time people were missing.
And then the nice thing about that being at a security conference, people were very skeptical that there were any working keys in the bowl. Right? There's no keys. Yeah. So every time someone won, we took a picture and then we put it on the company Twitter feed.
And then if they had a Twitter handle, we tagged them and ask them to retweet.
And so there were people, and I mean we had people, well, again, they're very methodical about this. They're like, okay, it looks like roughly once an hour people are winning. So the last time somebody won, they just won. Okay, well I'm going to come back and try again later.
Kathleen: Like people play slots.
Ashley: Yeah. It's like slots. But that was a great way. And then we were also able to share that ebook on Twitter as well to say, "Hey, if you're curious why we're taking pictures of the food, you can read this ebook." And then we were able to send that as well with some deeper case studies to anybody that we had scanned at the booth.
So it was a really nice integrated online, offline and social media experience.
That's another one of my pet peeves is people who are just like, come to booth 123. I'm not at the conference so you're just going to spam me for three days.
So making sure that you have content that tells a story to your social media audience, whether they're attending the conference or not.
Kathleen: That's great. That's a really good point about the shows too. Because yeah, you do so much marketing. And if somebody is not going, it's just annoying.
How to share your content on your website
Kathleen: So if you've created all this content, what does that look like on the website from an experience standpoint? Are there content hubs? Is it a resource center? How do you organize this all for presentation to your audience?
Ashley: I think it really depends on the audience. I think HubSpot, obviously from the hub and spoke model that they've done, is amazing so that you can kind of see, you can dive in deep per topic, you could dive in deep from an integrative marketing standpoint, you can dive in deep from a tech stack standpoint and obviously they have solutions for that.
So the way that they've organized it is actually really great because it allows people to kind of slice and dice how they want.
One of the things that we've done that I think is really great and it lasts and is, for example, on the work-life blog, which is like a corporate level, so deals with things like teamwork, practices, leadership, et cetera. We've got a related articles function. And so when you get to the bottom of the article, yes, there's a CTA.
If you want to sign up for the newsletter, you want to um, go talk in the community. Or in some cases where we're doing product focused content, it's go to the product tour or something like that.
But then at the bottom there's related content. And so we have a mix of collections, a mix of tags, and then those get fed into the related content. And so there's always a next step for people to take.
I think that's the biggest thing, whether you organize it as a hub, whether you organize it as a resource center that's done by topic filtering or content tagging, that ability for somebody to always take the next step and to, to only force that next step to be a buying action if they're in a head space for buying action.
So if you're on a product tour, the request a demo or the sign up for free, or the do an evaluation for seven days or 30 days, whatever it is, that makes perfect sense.
But if you've just read an article about productivity, it's a really hard landing to talk about five tips to manage your time and then all of a sudden be dropped into, you know, by the way, you need to buy Trello. It's like, why would I do that?
So making sure that there's always a next logical action that either takes them deeper toward a purchase or deeper tool, words and practices that will help them or allow them to say, I don't know how I landed here.
How do I get back to the first thing that I clicked so that I can get back on the path where I think I should be?
Kathleen: Yeah. How do you execute that? Because you just gave the example of somebody who's just poking around and then they're all of a sudden getting pushed to buy.
You know, being that it's a playground and people can go in any number of directions, how do you craft those next steps so that they make sense?
Ashley: I think the biggest thing is, there's obviously an ideal customer journey and that does include some post-sale engagement.
That could be things like documentation. It could be a support community. But really, I mean even from like, um, practically accessibility, labeling your buttons with what it is you're doing.
Are you downloading this? Are you reading this? Are you clicking to do an evaluation? Are you starting a trial for free? What is that? And then that way people are very clear whenever they get down there, they know what they're clicking on.
I know I've had this experience a few times where it's like, see more. And I'm like, yes, I wish to do that. And it automatically takes me into this form where it's like put in a credit card. And I'm like, you didn't tell me that's what I was doing. That's not, I didn't agree to that.
So having really clear navs and in the resource center, not having buy CTAs all over the resources.
You can go over to their journal section or their resource center and it's all thought leadership. It's all very high level and they state at the top, "This is free content. It's educational, no sales."
And so, you know, when you're that part of the website, you're not going to get sold to and there's a nice handy button at the top. It's like go back to home. And that's where, you know, you could either be directed down an education path or sales path and you can kind of choose.
So I think just being really explicit. We're past the point of I'm going to trick you into sales.
It might've been on LinkedIn. I saw a discussion that maybe you and somebody else were having about, "Oh, I got a thousand leads from this form. And the question is, are they qualified?"
Jay Acunzo actually has a whole rant about this. Stop gating your best content and then pretending whoever fills out that form is a lead sales lead. That's not what they agreed to.
And so don't try and trick your audience. If they want to buy, they'll let you know. If they want to be educated and they want to form a relationship with you, they'll do that.
And so giving them a clear path to let them either do sales or build a relationship makes them feel empowered.
It gives everybody good feelings and it doesn't clutter up your sales process with people that are junk, that are not qualified or that are not actually interested in buying.
Kathleen: So true. I find it's counterintuitive because, I started a few years ago ungating as much content as I possibly could and just putting it on the page and then adding like a little field just for email saying, "Want to get the PDF? Put your email in." And that was it.
What was fascinating to me is that not only did conversion rates not go down, in many cases, they went up. It's really psychology if you think about it.
There's so much crappy gated content out there and the problem with gating it, first of all, is people are very jaded and a lot of them will think, I'm not giving up my email only to find out that this is junk. And so then they don't convert at all.
Whereas, if you give the content away and then give them the option of downloading, you're basically allowing them to try before they buy.
You're proving that what you're giving them is really good and if they do think it's really good, they are going to convert because they're like, "Well, it's no skin off my back. This is great content. I don't mind giving up my email address for it."
And so the people that wind up converting on the ungated content are more qualified because they've self qualified.
The other thing I've found, it goes back to your thing about being explicit, is especially when you don't have things gated, like on the page before or in the marketing you're doing for it, just coming right out and saying, "No need to fill out a form to get it."
Kathleen: You don't have to give us your email address. People are so naturally almost defensive or they're like, Oh, Nope, Nope, Nope. They're going to ask for something. And if you can just come out and say, I'm not going to ask you for anything, that goes a long way.
Ashley: Well, and I think what's interesting in this, in this thought about building relationships and giving that content away, a great example, there's a company that I worked with, they were an agency for us.
We were a startup. We were using, you know, a lot of agencies and freelancers and they host these dinners and it's basically, you know, just get five, six, seven people together, have dinner, nerd out about marketing topics.
And yes, we all know full well some of us are current customers of this company. Some people are prospects of the company. But I don't have budget or need to work with them anymore.
But every single time I meet somebody that says that they have the need that this company services, I refer them and I refer probably three or four clients to them.
I would continue to do that and we have a great relationship. They still invite me to the dinners. I sent one of my colleagues to a dinner to basically make a connection to say this might be relevant for you to meet some people that we might want to put spokespeople on panels with in the future.
And so that willingness to connect with each other.
I'm loyal to that company even though I have no budget and no need to buy from them right now.
But I'm referring, I'm still giving them revenue because again, it's, it's fine for, for me, when I meet somebody at a conference and they're like, how would you do this? I'm like, actually this is a great company. Would you like an intro?
And so a buying action may not necessarily be the person who downloaded the content buys. It may be, I mean, again, I talk about Intercom.
Again, I have no need to buy their services at this point, but I tell everybody, go look at HubSpot's content or go look at Intercom's content.
And so there's no way for them to measure that. I'm just another random name on their list that hasn't converted, but I'm a brand champion for them and they don't even know it, you know?
Measuring the ROI of your content playground
Kathleen: That's awesome.
So speaking of measuring, you get this all set up. You deploy it. How do you track and measure whether it's working, how it's working, et cetera?
Ashley: So I've done this in a number of different ways depending on the company and the strategy and the bandwidth and all of that kind of stuff.
If you're just starting out in your tiny little team, and you don't have the ability to do, you know, Tableau or Databricks or kind of all of these fancy data pipelines, at minimum just start out with your Google tracking.
Google has free stuff that you can put on. Use your UTM codes to understand if these things are getting tracked from a social media standpoint, what's the referrals, if you are using any pages with forms from any of the marketing automation providers.
Again, I'm pretty partial to HubSpot just because I think they do amazing content. The platform is great.
We've used Marketo in the past, and other companies.
So any of those are great to really understand what are the trends.
I think that's the biggest thing. Making sure that you're looking at a correct trend level.
I've worked a lot on the social media side and people get freaked out per post. "Oh my gosh, we did 10 posts last week and this one did, you know, half a percent better than this one." And it's like, let's zoom out and look monthly. How are things trending? Let's do some testing to see if we post more. Does our engagement rate go down if we, um, the other big thing is optimizing the CTA is for what you want to happen.
So it's going to be really impossible for you to get somebody to like, comment, retweet, follow, and click through all in the same posts.
Like there's not enough words for that post. And so making sure that each CTA belongs where it should be.
So if you're asking for a poll on Twitter or Facebook, that's the goal. Responses in feed is the goal versus explicitly asking someone to click through. Make that explicit and you need to make sure that you're putting in some sort of hook or benefit.
I see this a lot with people who are just starting in social media, for example, that they just give the title of the article or they just say, read these five tips. Well, what are they?
On the opposite extreme, they give it away and they say, here's the five tips. And then they laid them out. And I'm like, well, now why do I need to read the article? You already gave me the tips.
Give me the first tip that you think is the most interesting and then say, click through to read the next four tips.
Ashley: So, from a measurement standpoint, being very clear on a per post basis about what your goals are, if you're looking at click through rate or engagement rates and what type of engagement.
So that's kind of more from a social media standpoint. If you're doing YouTube, if the answer is subscribe to the channel, if the answer is watch the next video, if the answer is go visit the page, those are very different actions. And so making sure you're optimizing those.
And then obviously looking at things like organic traffic is always great. Looking at whether you have emails or product tours.
From an email standpoint, looking at the open rates and the click to open ratio. So a lot of people look at the CTR, but that's a little bit out of whack. If there's a thousand people that opened it, but you sent it to 5,000, it's not very fair to say what's the CTR on the 5,000? Use it on the thousand.
In some cases we've gotten really granular to look at which pieces of content get the most clicks. And so that helps us to understand, it's great that you want to put 10 pieces of content in the newsletter, but if only the first five ever get clicked, you need to find something else to do because you're not amplifying those things.
Kathleen: How do you get people down further?
Ashley: Yeah, exactly.
What kinds of results can you expect?
Kathleen: So any examples of like, what kinds of results does taking this approach yield in terms of pipeline or engagement or revenue or any of the above?
Ashley: Yeah. From a scale standpoint, it depends. It's not very fair to say like, Oh, you'll get a thousand leads.
It's like, okay, well if your revenue goal is 10,000, that's a struggle. Or if you're a billion dollar company, a thousand leads doesn't do you any good, right?
So, we've done content pairing for example, where we've done a mix of gated content and ungated content. When we did that at Duarte, the ungated piece has over 300,000 views. Now it's been up for a couple of years, but it's got over 300,000 views.
We were getting roughly 10 to 15% download rates of people going and getting that content.
And so that's something where you're still getting the benefit of the people looking at it for free and ungated, but then you're starting to see higher engagement, you know, 10, 15% on that.
Whenever I've done newsletter sends that have been more thought leadership focused with very light touch sales, we've been able to see 20, 30% open rates, 15 to 25% CTOR rates. Again, because we're serving that content that they've requested, not trying to shoehorn in sales.
Whenever we've done sales, as a piece of content, like, "Hey, get a trial" or "Use this code" or "Refer" or "Here's an eCourse and then we'll give you one module for free because you've signed up for this newsletter" or something like that, those do have a much higher conversion rate for whatever the next buying action is.
Again, it depends on the scale. So like the Palerra one at the time, you know, that ebook and we were a tiny little company.
I mean we only had, I think when we got acquired, we had maybe 60 employees total. So very small company, 10 by 20 booth at AWS Reinvent, which is a massive conference. And we got, you know, almost 2000 views on that small ungated ebook. And then we got substantially higher open rates, and then our lead scans at that booth, I mean it was ridiculous. I want to say we scanned like 500 people and at most shows we were only scanning probably a hundred to 112 and so it was huge because it all tied in.
Kathleen's two questions
Kathleen: That's awesome. Well shifting gears because we're gonna run out of time.
I have two questions that I like to ask all my guests and I'm really curious to hear your answers because you've worked with some really interesting companies who are very good at this.
Is there a particular company or individual that you think is really killing it with inbound marketing right now?
Ashley: So I will do the shameless plug for Atlassian, A, because I work there so of course I think we're doing a good job.
But truly, I think one of the biggest examples of this, we have our team playbook and this is something again where we connected our work futurist Don Price, has done a number of different keynotes around the world and always promotes the team playbook and that has led to this health monitor — the team health check, understanding where your blockers are.
That led to a large engagement with ANZ bank, which is a huge bank in Australia and they have now done a case study with us.
They're huge champions that come for our conferences and speak about how this one tiny little interaction with this health monitor has led to this entire agile transformation across their business.
It's a mix of the tools, the people, the practices, it all came together perfectly.
So, yes, that had a revenue result for us, but it started with that ungated content at a conceptual level about how do you do your team work better and that's what Atlassian really tries to empower.
They've got sales manuals, they got marketing manuals that talk about a variety of different ways to think about content marketing, sales, the interaction between sales and marketing. Highly recommend their content for both sales and marketing practitioners.
And then, IDEO, just like if you want to elevate your creativity and you want to kind of think outside of a traditional business or products. I work in tech, so of course I'm in this little bubble that everything is SaaS and everything is ARR.
IDEO has none of that. And so every time I go to IDEO and just like, this is fascinating, how does the world work when you're not in your little bubble?
And so I would say, no matter what bubble you're in, IDEO will help you get out of it.
That would be three that are a mix of marketing focused, tech and then a design consultancy that's just completely out of my wheel house.
Kathleen: I can't wait to check some of those out — particularly IDEO. It sounds really interesting.
Well, second question is, the biggest pain point I was here from marketers is that digital is changing so quickly and they feel like it's drinking from a fire hose to try and keep up with everything and stay educated and on the cutting edge. So how do you personally do that?
Ashley: Yeah, so from a broader view, kind of outside of marketing or just business chops, which I think is really important, it's how do we fit in and especially as you move up in your career and you become COO or something like that, understanding that business acumen is really key.
I love MIT Sloan review for that content and they've been killing it lately. Every single thing that's come out from them over the last probably six or seven months, I'm like, "Yes, one hundred percent fascinating". So I love MIT Sloan from a business standpoint.
There's a couple of marketers that I think are a little bit contrarian and I joked about going on rants about things and I'm like, "Yes, ranting. I love it."
Katie Martell is somebody that I've been loving her content lately.
Jay Acunzo I think is great. He's really honing in on podcasting and show running over the last year or so. But just in general, his thoughts on content marketing and strategy are great.
I love Scott Berkun. He is primarily a designer, and more on that design thinking. He has a new book out that I need to get because it looks amazing. It's like How Design Makes the World, I think is what it's called. And it's looking at how all of these interactions and everyday things influence our path, our actions, et cetera. So Scott Berkun is great.
And then I would say just like a book that I always come back to is this book called The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. It's primarily about intersectional thinking and divergent thinking. And so yes, there's an element of understanding the tactical nitty gritty from a digital standpoint.
I think there's a number of, you know, Marketing Profs, CMI, HubSpot, all of those do a really great job of that. But how do you think about change? How do you think about a problem space? How do you think about a solution space? The Medici Effect is just every, it's like I come back to it kind of annually.
It's like, okay, somewhere in there I'm missing something. I should probably just reread the The Medici Effect.
In fact, I should probably just to think about the concepts and The Medici Effect to jolt myself out of being so focused on, okay, what does this button on Twitter do or what does this ads do?
Like are we doing AB testing? We're doing multivariate testing, what's our competence interval, whatever. We're pulling those things down. Like I don't know what the best practice is.
It's like I'm clearly thinking about it in the wrong way. If I'm so twitchy about such a small detail, you get lost in the weeds pretty easily.
Kathleen: Those sound like some really good resources. I will put links to all of them in the show notes.
How to connect with Ashley
Kathleen: If somebody is listening and they want to connect with you online or follow you or learn more about this topic, what's the best way for them to do that?
Ashley: I would love to connect on LinkedIn. I'm Ashley Faus. For the most part, I think I'm the first search result for that. And you can also follow me on Twitter also @AshleyFaus.
Kathleen: Great. I will put Ashley's links to her social accounts in the show notes. So head there if you want to find them.