B2B Content & Social Media Strategy with Ross Simmonds (Founder & CEO at Foundation)

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This is a podcast episode titled, B2B Content & Social Media Strategy with Ross Simmonds (Founder & CEO at Foundation). The summary for this episode is: <p>"One of the biggest misconceptions in content marketing is that content is the most important and only thing that matters in our space."</p><p><br></p><p>Ross Simmonds, founder and CEO of Foundation Marketing, a content marketing agency for B2B and enterprise companies, doesn't hold back from hot takes on this episode of Pipeline.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>Over the course of 50 minutes, Dave and Ross dissect all the elements that go into developing a B2B content and social media strategy. By the end of the episode, you'll know everything you need to know about distribution, attribution, hiring, and training to build a brand that generates trust from your audience, and in turn, pipeline for your business.</p><p><br></p><p>Like this episode? Make sure to leave it a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review and hit subscribe, so you never miss when a new episode drops.</p>
Identify the intent of everything you create
01:22 MIN
Philosophy on having a content strategy
04:49 MIN
A key challenge in the CMO space
01:19 MIN
Attribution with content
07:14 MIN
Tips for building a successful team and hire more junior level content creators
02:20 MIN
Striving for content excellence
01:31 MIN

Dave: Hey, everybody. This is... I'm Dave back. And Ross, last time we linked up, it was for something different.

Ross: Right.

Dave: This is for a new podcast that we're doing at Drift called Pipeline. And I want to talk to... I'm talking to COOs, CMOs about pipeline funnel stuff, but I also want to bring in subject matter experts to widen people's learnings and experience. And you're one of my favorite people to talk to about marketing, especially when it comes to content and social media. And that is a personal favorite subject area for me. And I also think it's a weak spot when it comes to a lot of B2B marketing. And so we're just going to... we're going to jam on some of that stuff. I have a bunch of prompts and things that I want to send you. And when you talk about distribution, can you go into the actual nitty gritty?

Ross: Let's do it.

Dave: What does that mean?

Ross: Let's do it. A hundred percent. So let's say you just pressed publish on a fire piece of content, something that you know your audience is going to want, they're going to enjoy it, they like it, et cetera. Most companies are going to send out a tweet, they'll share it on LinkedIn. The CEO might share it on their LinkedIn, and then you call it a day. Right? That is the bare minimum, and you need to take it a step further. So what do you do? To really embrace crosstalk.

Dave: ...pause there for a second. When... Okay. So I'm with you so far. When do you do this full out distribution effort? Because I think that-

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: I think that I see a lot of companies are... they're writing five blog posts a week. And the challenge then becomes do you do that for every post? Is it certain ones? Because if you... It's tough to put the full distribution blitz that you're going to go into on. And so are you first identifying how often and picking your spots of when you're going do this?

Ross: Exactly. So most... If you can't distribute... Out of five assets, if you can't distribute two of them, scale back on how much you're creating. You're creating too much. If you don't have time to distribute, you don't have time to create. You're creating too much content. So at the beginning, you have to do what I would say is identify the intent of everything that you create. So every asset that you develop should have a goal. Is this asset meant to rank in Google? Is this asset meant to generate traction amongst our target audience on social? Is this asset meant to elevate our corporate culture and tell our vision, tell our story, attract good talent? Every single asset that your organization creates should have a goal. It's like a stock portfolio in many ways, where the stocks that you invest in, the businesses you invest in, and the way you make your investment as an individual is going to be rooted in your own objectives and what you're trying to accomplish. So you should view your content-

Dave: Right.

Ross: ...the same way. Somebody who is 65 years old is not going to have the same investment portfolio as somebody who's 22. And the same thinking needs to be applied to an up- and- coming emerging startup versus somebody who might be an industry leader and already own 90% of the market, right? You're going to be doing different things, so your content marketing mix should reflect that. So that's where it starts, and then you go into distribution. And you're going to apply distribution tactics to the asset depending on the intent that you have behind it.

Dave: Yeah. I love that. You mentioned the important thing, which is intent, because to your point, if the goal is... Because obviously, a big part of what you talk about is search and SEO.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: But that to me feels different, right? Which is like-

Ross: It is. Yeah.

Dave: ...recreating an article that is designed to rank than the ... That is the promotion. We don't need to do all of those things. But if we've-

Ross: Right.

Dave: ...created some bigger, in depth report or guide or original research, that's when we're going to go and do all of the distribution stuff that you're going to talk about.

Ross: Exactly. So let's go back to the distribution and how that would look. So you just pressed publish on a great piece of content. It's going to resonate with your audience, and you know that it's going to increase the amount of people who are knocking on sales' doors to talk to them and it's going to generate some engagement. So what do you do? As I mentioned, most people will just do a couple tweets and share on LinkedIn and call it a day. A smart distribution engine has planned prior to pressing publish what their distribution efforts are going to look like from day one all the way through to day 140. What does that mean? It means on day one, you're going to take that asset and you're going to share it on Twitter, you're going to write a Twitter thread to support that asset, and then that last tweet, you're going to link to it. It means that you're going to take a screenshot of a tweet around this thing and you're going to share that maybe on LinkedIn with a link in the comments to that same article. You're going to email every single person who you mention in that article so they see and they can re- share and they can message you and talk about it and have some conversations behind closed doors. You're going to share it in your internal Slack channel with a message that you've already crafted so you can get the internal team to support it. In that message, you're going to link to the Twitter tweet that actually promotes it. You're going to link to the LinkedIn post that promotes it. You're going to link to the Facebook post that promotes it. And ideally, people on your team are going to amplify it, like it, share it, et cetera all within the first 30 minutes of this piece going live. You're then going to send a DM to a few of your friendlies, best clients, best customers, besties on the internet, and you're going to ask them to re- tweet it on social as well. This is all happening within the first 60 minutes of this piece of content being live. At this point, you're going to go grab some coffee, you're going to come back to your desk, and then you're going to put up potentially a quick video or something on your LinkedIn saying, " We just pressed publish on this piece of content. Check it out. I think you folks are going to enjoy it and you're going to like it." While all of this is happening, your sales team should be nurturing old relationships and saying, " Check out this piece that we just published." And then people are reengaged with this content. This is all happening on day one, because on day two, the life cycle of your article is not dead. You're reaching out to a few newsletters and people who run newsletters asking them if they think your article is worth sharing in their newsletter. So then, you have them promoting your article in their newsletter, maybe not on the same day, but maybe over the next seven, six, 14 days or whatever that may be. Then you potentially get plug there. You're also going into a handful of niche Slack communities where your audience is spending time, and you're sharing the content in those Slack communities. You're also keeping an eye on whether or not there's a dialogue or a conversation happening in Reddit about this niche, about this topic so you can be the first person to drop a comment on that post with the link to the article that you just published in this. This is happening between day four and let's say 25. In addition to all of this happening, you are going to re- share it on Twitter. You don't just publish a post once and call it a day. You're re- sharing it on Twitter probably the same day as well as the day after, because the people who are on Twitter in the morning aren't the same people who are on Twitter at night. Now, in addition to all of this, you're going into Facebook groups and you're looking for people who are, again, in your target audience, asking questions, looking for answers. And you're going to do something very different than most people. Most people will share a link in Facebook group and then wonder why they just got blocked and banned from the group. Instead, what you're going to do is you are going to drop as much value and knowledge as possible in the comment section on a post that somebody has shared relevant to this article. You're going to be very humble and you're going to say, " I got so much value out of this conversation a few weeks ago, I decided to revisit it. Here's a piece that I published about it and here are a few takeaways." You're not going to make them click to get those takeaways. You're going to include that in the summary on the post. Now, at this point, you're probably thinking, " Ross, one, you're talking too fast and I can't keep up." So I'm going to slow down and I'm going to say, " Here's what you need to know about content distribution." You create a piece once and you distribute forever. The opportunities to take an asset that is good and spread it is literally endless and infinite. All it requires is a little bit of hard work and a whole bunch of creativity and the commitment to adding value to the people on the other end.

Dave: That was crosstalk.

Ross: I could keep going.

Dave: Oh, I know you can.

Ross: I could keep going.

Dave: This is why you're here. This is why you're here. That was about five... That's five minutes of a playbook, which I hope people, if you're listening, will go back and map out. And go to Ross's Twitter and you can find all this stuff. And I also think another thing to do just to model what is good and just following the coolest cool Ross on Twitter, you can just see his Twitter feed as a good example of this. I have a bunch of different ... I have a bunch of followups for you on this-

Ross: Let's do it.

Dave: ... my friend. Numberone is so I think that there's levels of this distribution plan, right? Which is I think that people... I don't want people to listen to this and take every single piece of content and post it in somebody else's Slack group. I think that-

Ross: Right.

Dave: I really think that you have to pick and choose your spots.

Ross: A hundred percent.

Dave: Similar to social media, right? In the sense of when you... You've seen this for yourself on social media. If you give value eight out of 10 times on social media, when you ask for something, meaning, " Hey, sign up for this thing," or, " Here's this thing my company's doing," the response to those things is going to be way higher.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: It's like if you promote... if you're in the Facebook group, in the Facebook group, on Reddit, in Slack every other week, it's not going to work.

Ross: No.

Dave: I would say that there's maybe once a month where you can do this effectively. But I think that there's a subsection of if you laid out all the things that you talked about, there's almost different kind of engines here, right?

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: There's, " This is the Big Bang product launch. This is a big piece of content we've been working on for a while." But then there's... The stuff that you can do for every single post is social media, because of the more ephemeral nature.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: So that's just crosstalk.

Ross: Yeah, especially in communities, right? Especially in communities, people... You have to realize, in communities, the receipts are there. Everyone can see your receipts. Everyone can see what you've done in the past. Everyone can see how you've been engaging, how you've been interacting. So it's important that you ensure that the work and the value that you're adding is coming from a good place and that it truly is valuable, because everyone can see.

Dave: The most success that I've had as an individual content marketer was actually super early days of Drift. We took that approach, which is instead of publishing a piece of content every day, we published fewer things, but we had... Once a month, we did something meaty. And that is when... At the time, this was Inbound. org and Growth Hackers were communities that could help shoot your content, get initial traffic on it.

Ross: Yeah. To the moon.

Dave: And I noticed that if I came in and posted every time, it wouldn't work, A.

Ross: Right.

Dave: And to your point about adding value, if I just copied and pasted what I wrote and pasted a link in that community, it's not going to work.

Ross: A hundred percent crosstalk.

Dave: But if I wrote and dedicated... If I spent the time and wrote 500 words specific to that community that let people know, " Hey, I'm a regular participant in this community," because I think a lot of reasons like, " You posted a tweet the other day. You've been on the front page of Reddit 10 times."

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: You don't just get on Reddit by, " Oh, it's time to promote my content. I'm going to post my link now."

Ross: No. Yeah.

Dave: You have to add value. And so I really focus on trying to... This all comes back to actually knowing your audience, right?

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And being where those conversations are. And so it was natural to do that.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: So I think you have to give that value up front. Another thing that I scribbled down that this segment did, too, which is there's also... there is no way to do this content marketing or distribution without actually knowing where your audience hangs out.

Ross: That's true.

Dave: And so if you're listening to Ross... And Ross's advice is not just go blindly post in Facebook groups, right?

Ross: Right.

Dave: If you're not even in any Facebook groups in your niche or Slack groups in your niche, then your action item off of this podcast is to go make a list of before you even create content, I want you... Ross and I want you to go sit down, get out the white board, get a piece of paper out, and make a list of 20 places that your potential customers hang out online.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And that's the shell to start to figure out. And then you have to go in those communities, right?

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And then start... Then you can think about one day posting in there.

Ross: Yep. One billion people visit Facebook groups every single day. Your audience is there. You can hate Facebook, love Facebook. I'm not here to discuss that. But your audience is there.

Dave: Yeah.

Ross: Your people are there. And if you can't find a specific group that is directly for your niche, create that group. And you can be a leader in the space by being the place where that gathering ground exists and use that to drive results for your business.

Dave: Totally. And by the way, there is a freaking group for every single-

Ross: Every topic.

Dave: ...interest under the sun. And so no matter what industry you sell to, there's a Slack community or Facebook group for your niche.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And by the way, the size of the group is not actually that important, because at least the way that I think about it, and correct me if you think this is wrong, but i think of it as it's about finding, as Seth Godin called them, the sneezers, which is I want to reach the people who are going to spread my content.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And so my hypothesis is that if I am selling golf equipment, the people that are in a Facebook group for golf equipment... And this, granted, a B2C, but you can make the point.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: Let's say I'm a financial... I'm in financial technology, right?

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: The people that are in a group for that type of interest, those are the super fans, right?

Ross: Yep.

Dave: That's not the average Joe, who-

Ross: Nope.

Dave: If you're in a community about this topic, you really care about it.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And so it's not about the humongous audience. It's about reaching those people who will hopefully then spread your message to crosstalk.

Ross: A hundred percent. Yeah. And it's across the board. We've been looking for an EA to join the team. And I was like, "I have an inkling that there's Facebook groups for EAs. And if I can find that group, I'm going to find people who self identify as being an EA and a great one at that." So we found and we put up a job posting. And within minutes, we had more applicants than any other online effort, because people who are in these groups are the people that you expect. You're going to get the people who are so passionate about a certain topic that they're looking for that information on their Facebook feed. You know that they're going to be passionate about a subject.

Dave: Yeah. And I think you also have to... One of my biggest pet peeves with content and marketing is I don't think that we as marketers look enough objectively at the thing that you're creating. And it's like-

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: ..., "Is this good? Is someone who doesn't know my brand or company going to actually get value from this, or is this some veiled promotion for my company?"

Ross: Right. Right.

Dave: The best content marketing is truly about education and expertise and has nothing to do with the company. And I like to think about individuals in this sense, and I look at you, Ross, as the founder of, hey, surprise, you happen to run a content marketing agency, but you're an incredible person to follow. And if you follow you on Twitter, it's obvious that you get what you're talking about. People get to know, like, and trust you before they buy from you, " Oh, hey. Look. I've been following Ross for six months now on Twitter. If I'm in a position to hire an agency, you're going to be on my short list of brand."

Ross: Right.

Dave: That is the thing you're trying to achieve. It doesn't matter if you sell 10 million dollar B2B SaaS contracts or iPhone cases. That is the opportunity.

Ross: Right. A hundred percent. I could very quickly say, " I'm going to sell something else," and I am confident that I would still be able to sell that thing to a handful of people who I'm connected with just because we've built trust. And the trust has come from that commitment to adding value to the people who follow, the people who I'm connected with.

Dave: Yeah.

Ross: And I honestly think if you go into marketing with the idea that if you give value to an audience, you will get value back. The game is literally put on easy for you. It goes on easy, where you are able to just give value, and eventually the value comes back. Similar to you, you talk about the Growth Hackers and the Inbound. org thing. The value of those efforts come years later as well, right? The impact that you have on people at one point in time still continues to pay dividends in the future. It's very easy to get caught up in the fact that, " Oh, look who's on the front page of TechCrunch. Look who's getting all the hype. Look who's trending on Twitter. Look who's on the Discover page." Okay. All of those things are good. But if you can add value that fundamentally changes somebody's career, fundamentally changes their life, fundamentally changes the way that they view the world and their perspective et cetera, you shape culture with your content. You have the ability to generate and receive value for the rest of your life. And it's a long game. It's a long play. But personally, there's not been something more rewarding in my career than getting a message from somebody who's seeing something that I did five, six, seven years ago and say, " Ross, I'm writing today because I followed a YouTube video that you did. I read a thread that you had on Twitter. I saw a few questions that you had on Quora, and it fundamentally just changed my career." Nothing is better than that. So yes, at the end of the day, we're all in this world to generate value for companies. We're here. I love the game. But impacting people on a human level is so rewarding, and I think that alone should get you fired up to add value through content on social and distribute that content, because if you don't distribute it, you're doing a disservice to the people that you could have helped. Somebody right now is struggling because you're afraid to share an article that you wrote that is actually valuable. And that's not good.

Dave: And I also think... I think there's a curve over time also of how much you need to promote your content, right?

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: Because now, for example, looking at your social media presence, for example, you have built up an audience. You have a social media presence. You have an email list. You can get a ... You don't need to promote content like you used to.

Ross: No.

Dave: Here's an example. You're interviewed in a book that I'm writing that's coming out in a couple months, and I'm like, " Man, this book is coming out soon. I don't feel like I have a strong enough marketing plan." And then I'm like, " Actually, you know what? I have built an audience. I've built a community."

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: That's my marketing plan, is I'm going to-

Ross: That's it.

Dave: The people that are going to get the book are those people. However, rewind back to the early days. I think you do have to... You have to think about-

Ross: You do.

Dave: ...where you're at. Do you have an audience for your business, for your niche online somewhere?

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: If not yet, then you have to do more of those things to build up the distribution.

Ross: Right.

Dave: Okay. And this is crosstalk.

Ross: It's a good point to just double down on for a second, right?

Dave: Double down, please.

Ross: There's a reason why Kanye can just put out an album cover that is black with no graphics, no visuals, and just put it out there to the world and maybe put up a few Instagram posts, throwing shade et cetera. But an up- and- coming artist needs to go hard replying to every single viral tweet with a link to their album. They need to be on HotNewHipHop. They need to be on all of these sites. They need to distribute a lot more-

Dave: Right.

Ross: ...than somebody who's a legend in this space, right? You have to recognize that there is a big difference. And if you're early, you need to be hungry. You need to be distributing. You need to be spreading your content. You need to do more a hundred percent. So what crosstalk.

Dave: Yeah. I love that example. I love that example. His album is terrible. I'm certifying crosstalk.

Ross: It is. I'm not a fan either.

Dave: But-

Ross: I'm not a fan.

Dave: I'm team Drake, for anybody watching at home. Don't worry about it. But yeah, but I think... And I'm glad you mentioned that, because I think that's how I would... That's the angle that I would think about for your advice, which is unless you have now built in distribution... And by the way, to me, that is the goal.

Ross: Right.

Dave: The ultimate goal, for any B2B SaaS company today, if you're either starting over or you don't have this yet, I think the number one thing that you need to do is build a community around your cause, around your thing. And so for us at Drift in the early days, I was building a strong community in the marketing space, right?

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: But even today, if I was starting a new company in this space, the very first thing that I would do would be building a community.

Ross: Right.

Dave: You and I, I think on the last podcast, we talked a little bit about golf. But even in that example, if one day, let's say maybe 10 years from now I want to launch a golf brand, right?

Ross: Right.

Dave: Well, the best thing I could be doing now is to actually not sell anything, but to be creating content. I could start a blog and start a newsletter and build that up, because if I then have after five years an email list of 10,000 people that are getting my articles and videos, there's nobody more prime to buy our stuff.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And this is not rocket science.

Ross: No.

Dave: Everyone that's listening has heard these examples. I just don't think that we... Something happens when we go in the B2B land and we shut all that down, and the reason that I like talking to you is because you can bring regular examples into the mix.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And that's what I like to riff on with you, because that's what I want people to think about. Forget about this crosstalk B2B content marketing strategy. Think about that approach.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: So here's the question that I want to riff on with you, though. I think one place that a lot of companies get stuck with content is... You mentioned every piece of content you need to create has to have some intent.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: The hard part, though, is content at a company is used for everything.

Ross: Yes.

Dave: Hiring, engineering. The engineering team wants a blog post. We need this article for sales. There's this for SEO. There's this research report we're writing. I've seen many times at companies that there's a lot of action happening in the content world, but we're not making progress on a lot of results.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: So I want to peel all the way back to how do you first... What do you talk about with companies, with B2B companies, about a content strategy?

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: Because you can't just get in this world where, yeah, every piece of content has a goal, but you're going to be asked to do 30 things. And the funny thing about content is it's usually one or two things that actually move the needle. So can you just unpack what's your philosophy on action, having a content strategy and where that should fit? Because content... Sorry this is a rant. But content can be used for awareness and trust, and it can be used all the way at the bottom of the funnel for feeling good about what you're going to buy. How do you lay those things out and appeal to each stage?

Ross: Great question. So it starts by doing an audit of what exists today. So oftentimes, your organization will have created some type of content. And what you're going to look for is a trend to see what type of content a brand has been publishing consistently over the last few days, few weeks, few years, et cetera. Oftentimes, in SaaS, if a team doesn't really have a strong content engine, you're going to see a post about who just joined the board of directors. You're going to see a post about who's the new CFO. You're going to see a post about a new feature that they launched. You're going to see an announcement that they just sponsored a new event, that they're headlining a conference, a bunch of content that is not worth sharing on social, that is not going to generate any ranking in the search. It's not going to get anybody excited. Sales can't really use it. It's not going to do much at all. When you see that, that is an entire content portfolio. So let's embrace the investment analogy a bit. That is 100% rooted in let's call it culture content. So the full endeavor is culture content, content that the internal culture would care about, the rest of the world doesn't really, but we've created it to satisfy the culture and the higher ups and the people in the company. Now, what you then need to do crosstalk.

Dave: ...people who don't know anything often don't know anything about the actual... about what content works. It's like those are often-

Ross: Exactly.

Dave: ...the same people who are complaining about... I posted something the other day. It's like, " In order to... Yes, we want to invest in social media. But first, before we make an investment in social media, I need to see the ROI in social media. And so we're going to do a bunch of things."

Ross: Right.

Dave: "And we're going todo a bunch of short- term things and measure them the wrong way, and then wonder why this approach is not working."

Ross: Exactly. Yeah. We're going to put an intern... No shade to interns. Love interns. But we're going to put an intern on it who's one month out of school and let's see if they can make it work. That's not a proper investment. And we keep talking about this thing, investment, because that's what content is, right? You're investing in this asset to get an outcome. So at this point, once you've done an audit and you see what type of content assets you've been creating, you want to categorize them. How much of your content has been meant to act as let's say documentation for engineers and developers who need to use your API? Okay. If that's a bucket of content that you need to create on a regular basis, amazing. What is the investment that you need to put into that to sustain the development community in the way that you're strategically trying to? Okay. That's your engineering bucket. Now, you're going to look at social content. So how much of your investment is going to be in pure play social content that is meant to generate shares on LinkedIn, on Twitter, et cetera? You're going to create a bucket of content for that. Then, you're going to look at high growth SEO opportunities. So maybe you're going to say, " A bucket of our content is going to be invested in high growth SEO opportunities that might hit, that might resonate." You're also going to go after some highly competitive, so low risk SEO opportunities, low growth opportunities, but it's going to be highly competitive. At this point, you're creating essentially a content portfolio and you're allocating your budget to the various types. Now, when you do it correctly, you probably will see that culture content doesn't really get as much of an investment as it used to, because what you're seeing is that the outcome of other investments have a bigger impact on your bottom line, on your business, on your sales pipeline, on revenue assisted content. All of those things become easier when you look at it from a holistic standpoint. Some of your content might be back link driven content, where you're just publishing it because you want to get a bunch back links. So you're creating an investment in maybe one or two assets a year that are going to get a bunch of links, because they're a state of crypto report, it's a state of IT report, it's a state of HVAC report, whatever it may be. And you're going to do that annually, and it's going to get a bunch of links. Those are the things that you need to look at from your content strategy and ask yourself as you make these investments, " How did these link back to our overarching goal?" And what often happens is that you'll notice one part of your investment in your niche, in your space, with your audience serves better than everything else. And when you see that, that's when you increase that investment. That's when you start to say, " Okay." Organizations like Zapier have seen amazing opportunities on the back of SEO. So what do they do? They invest heavily in SEO content. You look at a handful of organizations who have done a great job on social content. They invest in that because it's working. And that's the way that you need to do it. You need to invest in what works. But first, you have to do an audit of where you are today. Then you need to create a portfolio based off of intent that is rooted in, " Okay, this is where we want to be and what our goals are," and then you start to double down on the things that really move the needle.

Dave: Yeah. Okay. I love that, because basically you have to first accept the fact that content is everything and it's going to go across the entire funnel. And so what you're doing is you're laying out, " Where are all of the... What are all of the things that we're being asked to do with content today? And what are all the things we should be doing?" And you're laying them all out and ranking them, because if there is a huge opportunity with SEO and you need to be spending more time creating SEO content, but your writer is spending all of her time doing this blog for the engineering team.

Ross: Yep.

Dave: And you only have one writer and you're not... Then you have to also make hard decisions.

Ross: Yeah. Yep.

Dave: You don't need to do everything. And so, hey... or a big ask has been from the sales team, " We need much more product marketing, middle of the funnel type of content."

Ross: Right.

Dave: That's going to be measured and created differently, and there's going to be trade- offs to all that approach. So I really like your portfolio analogy, because one of the challenges with content is that it's always got to be short term, long term.

Ross: Yep.

Dave: You had a tweet that I saw. I was just messing through your timeline before this, which is like, " If you're a CMO or a marketing leader, you're going to be thanking yourself for the investment in SEO in five years from now."

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And that's hard. That's hard.

Ross: Right.

Dave: I've been a CMO. I've been a marketing leader. It's very hard to do the long- term stuff when you have so much pressure to hit the short- term goal. And so I think your advice around a portfolio approach means, " Look, what percentage of our..." All of our... Our content is not direct response. Some of it might-

Ross: Right.

Dave: ...help us bring an inbound interest today, but the goal is longer term awareness, longer term SEO. SEO can take six, 12 months, a year, multiple years to compound. And so you have to be able to look at that view. There's short- term content and there's long- term content.

Ross: Yeah. And that's a key challenge in the CMO space, because a lot of our tenures is short. I think the average CMO, chief marketer, it's less than five years. And it's hard to think for a company 10 years out when you're going to be measured on this year's metrics, next year's metrics, and then you potentially might turn, right? It's very difficult often to have a leer in the marketing seat that is empathetic enough for the next team, empathetic enough for the next org to say, " Ten years out from now, it's important that we lay the foundation for the group and the organization, what it will look like in the future."

Dave: Yeah.

Ross: It's important, though. It's very important. And I think marketers over the last few years have started to get a bad rep in many ways, because we, one, have a lot of folks who will think short term, and we have a lot of folks who are anti- sales for some reason. Marketers, stop being anti- sales. Be friends with the sales folks. Create the sales enablement content. Create the con-... Talk to your sales people. This is an important part of our jobs. And when you have leadership that embraces both the long term and sales, that is leadership in a marketing division that will thrive. And it's so key.

Dave: So you talked about sales. How do you... You're a big advocate of sales then. How do you think about attribution with content?

Ross: So to me, I say, " Hey, sales. Are you folks seeing..." It's the basics. It's like, " All right. Let's see and track the SQLs that are coming in. And where do they come from?" If they came from a marketing effort, great. That's awesome to hear. That's awesome to know. I'd want to be able to see that. Do I measure content assisted blog posts and tweets and LinkedIn updates? Not really. As long as we have some data that demonstrates that we're capturing some folks and there's an increase in demand and sales is happy and we're able to also arm sales with the ability to nurture and move people through the pipeline faster, marketing is doing their job. And I think that's one piece. As much as this is a role of data, it's also a role of EQ, personal relationships, building trust, and having tough conversations with sales when you need to have a tough conversation with sales. And I think you need to talk to your sales team and say, " All right. We're rolling in a new feature. Let us arm you with some one pagers. Let us arm you with a deck. Let us arm you with some resources so you can nurture those relationships and close some prospects that fell through the cracks." Have the conversation with sales, " Hey, we've noticed that we haven't been hitting our numbers. Is there anything that marketing can do to arm your sales team, your BDRs with better information to close?" Have those conversations instead of living in a silo where it's like, " We want to rank for this keyword. We want to rank for that keyword." All good, but you still got to pay the bills. And the bills get paid through sales. So let's help sales do that. And I think long story a little bit longer, I know I'm rambling a bit here. But essentially, my thoughts on attribution is the conversation about attribution disappears very quickly when you are able to demonstrate one KPI that is associated with marketing that is ultimately leading to sales being happy with the results that they are generating in terms of actual sales. So that's my approach to it. I'm curious, what are your thoughts on the full attribution requirements and the approach?

Dave: I think there's a couple things in there that you mentioned, which I'll pick at. One of them is I think there's the role of... I think when we talk about cont-... I think when I think about content, I don't just mean blog posts. I think of-

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: ...the actual creation of content. And I would like to use... As a marketing leader, I would like to use the best content creators to create content regardless of the stage of the funnel. So for example, if the content ask is sales needs a deck or a one pager, I would want to have a content team that it's not just like, " Well, no. I only write blog posts." No. If you're a bad ass content creator, I want you to apply that brain to the PDF.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And the output is a PDF. The challenge is that's where competing goals and priorities come from, because a lot of the times, in organizations, that content person will have an output goal, like X number of articles per week. And so that person is then not fundamentally aligned to then go drop what they're doing and then go help the sales team. And so I think content is a weird thing in that it can be done by multi-... Because you can also make the case that that content should come from product marketing or sales enablement. There are multiple teams that are creating content. And so I think it starts with thinking about the property. Is that website content? Is it a deck type of content? But I also think on the attribution thing, I think the attribution piece is very important.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And I've been in a situation where, like you mentioned, where it's likee, " Yeah, we're doing stuff and sales is selling and content's working." But looking back, I would actually fully instrument attribution on content from the beginning.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And the way that I would think about was I would want to use something like Visible, for example, where I could-

Ross: Right.

Dave: ...get attribution across everything and I could say, " Hey, this company spent, this company bought, and it wasn't..." Because content is so rarely ever direct response, especially in B2B, that I want to know did our content help or influence them. The best marketing today is helping, and we talk so much, Ross, about being an expert and leading through expertise with content. It would be enough for me as the marketing leader to say, " This company bought, and they engaged with or read three articles over the course of their buying experience."

Ross: True.

Dave: And that could be-

Ross: A hundred percent.

Dave: ...nine months, right? Hey, the average sales cycle is nine months. This person initially read our blog, and then they read five more posts. I would want to work that into some type of... That's how I would measure the success of that type of content, verse there might be a different type of content where the goal is not... Ultimately, every piece of content, the goal is to get somebody to your website, to your store.

Ross: Sure. Yep.

Dave: And so I would have some typw od attribution model that gives content credit. And ultimately, it's not about... I think you'll get into a tough spot if you're trying to measure last touch attribution on content. It's not going to be that in B2B someone read a blog post. It's way different in B2C. If I Google-

Ross: It is.

Dave: ...best golf shoes and I read an article and I click on a link, and then I buy from that link, that's a world where that last touch makes sense.

Ross: Right.

Dave: In B2B, it's so much about education. It's so much about helping. It's so much about taking somebody along that buyer's journey that I would think of it more of, " How much content are they consuming along the way?" And especially important is I want to position my brand, my company as the expert or an expert in this industry. And so-

Ross: Right.

Dave: ...I want people to look at my company as a leader. And they're reading my stuff not because we're promoting our products, but because I'm helping you to get smarter in this world. And I'll give you a real example of this, which is my friend Tom Wentworth, he's a CMO of a company called Recorded Future. They're over a hundred million revenue-

Ross: Cool.

Dave: ...SaaS business. Instead of just blogging, they created a big anchor. And I know you like this idea, too. But they created this thing called The Record. It's TheRecord. media if you go check it out.

Ross: Cool.

Dave: But they sell to cybersecurity. He hired two former journalists, hired them off of their jobs to go and build this media publication. And the reason that it works is because it has nothing to do with their company. It is put on by their company with deep expertise by journalists in their space. And the traffic to this site is insane. It's more than most companies' website and blog combined. And that's because crosstalk they took this approach. And so I would much rather see companies take this approach. And the journalist thing doesn't always work out, hiring journalists, but you can take the same mindset, which is instead of just writing five articles a week, what is our anchor? And so one example is even doing this podcast for Drift, Pipeline, we think that there can be so much content that we create from this. We're not pushing Drift. We're not selling Drift. We're trying to teach people about how to-

Ross: Right.

Dave: ...get better at B2B sales and marketing. By association, they see Drift as, " Hey, I'm going to listen to that company."

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: "They're going to help teach me."

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: If you can do that, by the way, guess who they're going to check out when it comes time to buy?

Ross: A hundred percent.

Dave: And I think that's ultimately the reaction that I would want to create with content.

Ross: I love it. I think you're spot on. I think it's... In the early, early days of a startup and when you're a five- person team, it's very easy to get caught up too much on the attribution side, when really you just need to grow and get traction. But I think as you scale, you're a hundred percent right. You need to have the house in order as it relates to the data to be able to say, " We just invested in a$40, 000 tool." Okay. You created this new calculator. You invested a bunch of money in it. You need to be able to track how many people who are going into that actually are converting so you can say, " We invested 40K, but we were able to get 1.5 million out of it." Woo. Different conversation, right? It just changes the dialogue entirely, and it secures you the ability to just make the case in the future to do it again.

Dave: Yes. Okay. I have two questions, and then I want to wrap you up. How have you found... I know a lot of companies struggle with training content, training content teams. You obviously do this as a business. As an agency, you have to be able to build and scale and higher junior people and get them up to speed. Can you just share some kind of tips and lessons and learnings on hiring more junior level content creators? I'm not talking about spending 100 grand to go hire a journalist.

Ross: Yeah. For sure.

Dave: How do you build a successful content team and how do you train people and build them up to be effective to write for these companies that you work with?

Ross: Great question. So it starts by having a fundamental training program that you put everyone through. So we have developed intentionally, and I started it when I was a one- person shop, and I was like, " I need to make sure that I can pass off all of this information that I have on content, because the schools aren't teaching it, you're not going to learn it in an MBA, you're not going to learn it in BComm. You're just not going to get it." So I recorded a handful of videos that covered content strategy, content creation, and content distribution. So every person who joins Foundation get access to a course hand developed by myself that they go through. And in that course, they're getting cheat sheets, they're getting tasked with the ability to actually go create things, you're getting homework, and you go through this as a part of your onboarding experience with Foundation. One of the things that is different about Foundation and other agencies is we also run a handful of our own brands. Some of these brands have absolutely nothing to do with marketing, B2B, et cetera, but we run a handful of different brands. And with that, we give our creators, journalists, these early writers, these early distributors the ability to get some expertise in their craft by writing pieces of content in topics that are not exactly directly related to marketing, that aren't going up on the Foundation Lab's website, that they're not going to share on their personal LinkedIns. It's just going out into our brand worlds. And by doing that, we're able to give them feedback. So we have editors who are going to give them feedback, who are going to help them structure a better lead, who are going to have content distribution experts talking them through how to write a great Twitter thread, how to share in a Facebook group appropriately. So they're getting that hands- on training so they better understand the fundamentals of it. And then they graduate to going off and doing it for clients. So after they go through the process of learning it by actually applying it to people, letting the world see the content, not necessarily directly for our own clients, but for our own brands, they're then able to move up to saying, " Okay. Now, we're going to create content on behalf of this unicorn. We're going to create content for this up- and- coming startup. We're going to start creating content for these brands," et cetera. So in that process, we start to brief them. So they get briefed. They learn the ins and outs of a subject. They start to monitor other folks who have been working on those accounts. They learn from them et cetera. And then they're able to go off and execute that content from there.

Dave: Yeah. So it starts with you having... There's a million ways to do content, but you've defined, " Here's the steps one through 12 of what I believe the playbook is, and we're going to train everybody on this. And then over time, as tools and platforms change, we might add specific stuff that."

Ross: Exactly. Yeah. We have a definition for what we believe is content excellence, and we train for what we call content excellence. We're not trying to get content perfection because that leads to just nothing ever getting shipped. But as long as there's an aspiration for content excellence and we can define it, then we can tell and train people to know what to look for when you're striving for content excellence. What's a headline that captivates content excellence, right? So in that, we're going to train and teach folks, " This is what a good headline looks like. This is what a horrible headline is. These are the types of words that you use. There's this thing called the information gap that you need to understand. Let's talk about it. What's a bucket brigade? Let's talk about why bucket brigades should be included in any written content, and we break down all of those fundamentals." When we're talking about a Twitter thread, a thread starter should be a certain way. The conclusion of a thread should be a certain way. And we provide that guidance to them so they can come back to it, but also that they're learning the fundamentals. When you create a case study, the biggest mistake, and then I'll stop on this one, that people make are they write these boring case studies that just say, " Problem, solution, outcome." Boring. Everybody's going to sleep. Everybody is going to sleep. Tell them a story. And we show how you can tell a story with a case study that actually generates engagement. Nobody wants to click on a LinkedIn post that's showing up that says, " B2B's SaaS Case Study with this brand and this brand." Nobody wants to click that. Nobody wants to click that. But they do crosstalk.

Dave: You know what's so funny? Where companies are the worst at this is actually ad copy.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: I see there's so much in my feed. It's like they're clearly spending a ton of money on ad copy, but then I'll see an image in Facebook that was just like... Because there's a mismatch. This is why I care so much about copywriting.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: It's like somebody's job was to get these ads out, and so they got new creative. But then they just shipped the creative. But there's just a weak headline on top of that.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: I love what you laid out, because I think it's tough to be successful at content if you can't articulate what good content looks like. And so without having seen your thing, a training guide from you, for example, my guess is you're teaching people how to write Twitter threads simply by observing good Twitter threads that have either worked for you or, if you haven't written one yet, you're looking crosstalk at others and you're saying, " Hey, here are the fundamentals of this. Now, you have a framework to go and try to recreate that for a brand." And you can repeat that across, " Here's a standard recipe that we use for a blog post. Here's a standard recipe that we use for this." What is a bucket brigade crosstalk?

Ross: The biggest cheat code in life is reverse engineering, right? The biggest opportunity is to crosstalk reverse engineer things, right? Go ahead. Sorry.

Dave: Well, I think even more than that is to have... You haven't just reversed. You've reversed engineered it, but then created templates and checklists.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: And I think that-

Ross: Right.

Dave: ...anybody that's listening to this, whether you're in content or not, any role in sales or marketing, if you want to grow into a leadership position that you're not in, or even if you're in one and you're going to be hiring, from day one, Ross, you as a team of one thought about, " How can I scale this? I need to document how I do this." And I think it's not just about the documenting, but it's about you being able to articulate what good looks like, things that you like, things that you don't like, and I think it's so tough to have a good content strategy if you can't explain how you're going to... what is your unique take on this going to be? How are we going to create content, and what do we think good should be like? So I think that's a great example for people that are working in companies.

Ross: Yeah. I'm not sure crosstalk if it was you who put this out there, but I did see someone say, " You do have to have an element of taste as a marketer."

Dave: Yeah.

Ross: And-

Dave: A hundred percent.

Ross: It's so important, right? You have to build your taste. You have to... It's just like wine, right? If you have a first sip of wine, you might think it's disgusting. But as you try more, you might start to build a taste for it. Same with content. You have to consume a lot of bad content and you have to consume a lot of good content. And eventually, you'll be able to articulate to other people what excellence is and pass that information down to your team. It's so, so crosstalk.

Dave: Yeah. One thing that's helped me is... And I can't untrain my mind, and I know you're the same way now, is I just see everything through the lens of marketing and content now. And I think of, " Huh. Ross posted this thing. That thing blew up."

Ross: Right.

Dave: "Why? What's my version of that that I could create?" And you could do this within your niche. Especially important, think about what things your customers are reacting to. And this is beyond content strategy, by the way. If there is an event that one of your competitors did and it looked amazing and the response was amazing, don't get made about that.

Ross: Yeah.

Dave: Understand why it worked and try to go and take the principles of that and go and make your own thing. I think that that-

Ross: That's it.

Dave: ...could be an opportunity.

Ross: So true. One hundred percent.

Dave: All right. Ross, as always, we could do this and talk forever. But I appreciate you hopping on. If you're not already following Ross, go and do it. One of the things that we want to do with this podcast is not sell you Drift, but just make you smarter at building pipeline. And I think that, to me, the way that I think about content is that the number one thing you can do as a B2B company today is to build a brand, because there's so much noise, there's so much competition. Building a brand gets people to know, like, and trust you, and that's what you want to do. Most people are not just buying one solution. They're often shopping. And so they're looking for two or three different things. I want to be in that conversation because of the brand. Nothing else today helps you build a better reputation and brand than content and social media. And Ross, I think you're one of the best people to follow. So just follow Ross on Twitter, and that's one good way to get smarter on this. I appreciate you doing it, my friend. And I'm sure this will be the first of ... This is maybe our third or fourth time, and I'm sure we got more. So thank you, and I will-

Ross: I like it.

Dave: ...I will see you around.

Ross: Thanks so much. Appreciate you, as always. Thanks for having me on.

DESCRIPTION

"One of the biggest misconceptions in content marketing is that content is the most important and only thing that matters in our space."

Ross Simmonds, founder and CEO of Foundation Marketing, a content marketing agency for B2B and enterprise companies, doesn't hold back from hot takes on this episode of Pipeline. 

Over the course of 50 minutes, Dave and Ross dissect all the elements that go into developing a B2B content and social media strategy that generates pipeline for your business. 

You'll hear about:

  • What distribution means and why it's as important as the content you create (1:50)
  • Ross' distribution checklist (3:43)
  • Understanding the intent behind the content you create (6:08)
  • How to effectively leverage social media communities (12:54)
  • The importance of giving value to get value (18:43)
  • Mapping content to funnel stages (25:30)
  • Investing in what works - and how to figure out what that is (27:30)
  • Content attribution (33:40)
  • Building and training a content team (42:00)
  • Defining your taste as a content marketer (48:24)

Today's Host

Guest Thumbnail

Dave Gerhardt

|Chief Brand Officer, Drift

Today's Guests

Guest Thumbnail

Ross Simmonds

|Founder & CEO, Foundation Marketing

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