Q&A with Allister Frost: How to stop being a content marketing hamster
In light of his upcoming training session with B2B Marketing in September and November, Molly Raycraft chats to Allister Frost about hamsters, slogan t-shirts and all things content marketing.
What does good content marketing achieve?
Allister: I think it achieves a lot of things. It allows you to be discovered online because it’s through content that people find out you exist. But primarily it’s a way of communicating an organisation’s purpose, the role that it plays, and the value that it brings beyond just products and services. It allows an organisation to stand for something beyond what it was historically limited to. The reason this is important of course, is that so much of business-to-business research and discovery is done online now.
Do you think people have misconceptions when it comes to creating content?
Hugely! Content marketing has sort of evolved and become a necessity with the digital world we live in. And people are largely self-taught, so marketers make mistakes – mainly in thinking more is better. People think they have to be everywhere; that they’ve got to be discovered in every online magazine, every website, and every page. That’s simply not true – or even possible!
But I think the biggest misconception is that people are interested in them. Don’t overestimate how much time people have to read, or their inclination to ‘consume’ the stuff you create. Unless you’re offering to solve a problem, 99% of the time, no one will care.
I have a t-shirt that says something like: ‘I do not, and will not ever, care about your product. All I care about is me, me, me’. That is what customers think, to be honest. If you have that in mind when creating content marketing, you can make stuff that people will pay attention to.
What key challenges are you aiming to help marketers tackle in your upcoming training course?
I’m going to be addressing some of the common misconceptions. We’ll address the widespread lack of strategic planning around content and try to overcome the challenges of randomised content activity. Most marketers are busy doing stuff but they’re not doing it with a clearly defined purpose that’s rooted in a strategic intent.
I often describe it as the hamster wheel of content marketing. You’re just on the wheel churning it out, and then onto the next thing. The wheel keeps spinning and you can never get off. That’s a terrible place to be. You should only be spinning that wheel once you’ve worked out what you’re trying to achieve, with whom, how, and by which channels. And quite frankly, doing the least amount of work possible while still achieving your commercial goals.
So you’re aiming to stop marketers from becoming hamsters?
Yes! Stopping them from frantically creating stuff not knowing where it works and doesn’t work but just thinking; ‘I’ve got to make some more stuff’. Most marketers will do that for a number of years but they just burn out; they get exhausted or they lose interest. It’s much smarter to be strategic in the first place. Work out what it’s there for and then start running in the right direction. Make sure you get off the wheel every so often, have a rest, and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
You will be helping marketers make the most of the ‘zero moment of truth’. Could you explain what the phrase means?
Very simply, it’s a phrase that Google first used to describe the moment when we intuitively, without thinking, use technology of some form to validate marketing or sales stimulus.
Before the internet, if someone ran an advert we liked, we might contact the company and ask for more information. The zero moment of truth happens before that; we look at the stimulus, the brochure, the postcard, the webinar, and we can check it out online. We can read a review, visit the website, do our own research because we’ve got all this information.
The zero moment of truth, is the way we use technology to validate marketing stimulus before we consider buying. It’s a profoundly different approach to the marketing we had in the past because you’ve got to create a message that captures someone’s attention with content, but then you’ve got to survive the zero moment of truth. If you don’t, your business goes to a competitor.
Do you think it’s important to map out content? If so, how far ahead would you recommend?
It’s crucial that you map out what you’re going to do. Otherwise you won’t stay true to your overarching purpose and goal; you’ll just be making content and will lose sight of why.
Once you know what your purpose is, you can map how much content you need and what will allow you to achieve that goal. With that plan you can secure the organisational support, resources, stakeholder buy-in, all of those things. So it should be a serious programme that people understand.
I advocate planning at least three months ahead which is a real stretch for many marketers. But if you’re thinking three months out then you’ve got a really good chance of doing that content well. If you’re selling ice creams in August, it’s too late to start thinking about content as you’re not going to do a good job. How do you maximise sales over the summer months? You should have been thinking about that in Spring. Certainly journalists and publishers know this very well but content marketers need to embrace those principles as well.
If it’s about quality not quantity, is it possible to create one-size fits all content or should personas always be used?
I’m a bit fan of the principles behind persona marketing and really getting to know the core segments in your audience. Not having too many, perhaps three or four, then you can create content that’s made for them. Afterall, there’s a vast difference between a senior buyer and a junior assistant, so they will respond to different types of messages. The old marketing saying is: ‘If you market to everyone, you market to no one’, because it’s just shouting really isn’t it? And hoping someone picks it up.
Most of your content should be aligned to a minimum number of personas to achieve your goals, but some content should be one-size-fits-all. I call it evergreen content. The stuff that people use to find out who you are, what you offer and how to buy.
Do you have any advice on offering both types of content without doubling the work?
Many marketers assume a white paper will interest everyone when in fact, specifically tailored content would have more resonance and value – just to a smaller market. Instead of having one version of the white paper, why not have four slightly different versions, each one designed and built to the persona you wish to reach.
When you actually break it down it seems mad, doesn’t it? Why would we expect a CEO to read a generic white paper, They’ll read something that’s for CEOs because that’s what they are.
Allister will be training B2B marketers to overcome their content marketing woes, on 11 September and 29 November. He’ll also be running a social media marketing course, which complements this course.