The Jeff Bullas Interview – Part II
This is the second and concluding part of the Jeff Bullas interview. If you have not yet read the first part, please do so here.
Scatter: Alright. You spoke a little bit about you know the technology, the humanizing bit. Where do you see automation or technology in content generation? You’ve got trends like cognitive. Do you think that you’ll see a time in the near future where human writers won’t be required to write a contextual and grammatically perfect + SEO optimized content? I mean do you have the driverless car equivalent of this in this space?
JEFF: I wouldn’t just dismiss anything. I think the age of robots is upon us. And how far that goes…I wouldn’t be surprised. But I think it frees us up to be fully human. Because we can concentrate on things that matter rather than, what I call, the repetitive task. So I am actually not too worried about that. For me, I use a lot of digital marketing automation in my sales funnels, tagging etc. And once the machine is built – it can run. That saves me from becoming a digital industrial robot. I don’t want to become that. It is just soulless. So, where does the future lie? Writing machines, I think, that could be done. AI is going that route. But I still think there is going to be a lot of human creativity involved as well. And I am not pessimistic about this. I am optimistic.
Scatter: Jeff, we are going to like pull you back from the future to a little bit in the past, so allow us to do that. Everyone really wants to have a content play today. There are some creative agencies who are getting into it, leveraging, traditional teams who have typically written, ideated advertising copy, and I am using the words “advertising copy.” Do you think that’s a good way to go about it or should content be left to content writers, journalists, experts, bloggers, in that domain?
JEFF: I think the advertising copy is a very, very important part of the content marketing piece. The direct marketers of the eighties and the nineties who wrote great headlines – they had crafted what I call “copy that touches your soul and makes you act.” It is very, very important. If you just write creative copy that is nice and fluffy and gets lots of traffic and goes viral, that’s fantastic. But good advertising copy or good creative copy writing woven into the whole content creation piece is fun. Because you want people to actually take action, right? And I am not talking just sharing. I am not talking just about turning up. It is more about taking action to buy your product. So the art of the advertising copywriter, I think, is actually evolving and is actually becoming bigger. People realize that the first two pieces: traffic and engagement through great content is very fantastic. But it quite often doesn’t convert if you just leave it to the creatives.
Scatter: You know the content marketing spiel goes that “the consumer is really in the center of the conversation. The brand is kind of backstage, though it brings great content. It enhances engagement.” But how do brands ensure the content they put out there is perceived as independent? Brand managers are often worried that unless there is some kind of mention of that particular brand, the audience may get the larger message but they won’t be able to connect it to the brand. How does a brand manager live with that rather disturbing thought?
JEFF: Okay. Let me explain it this way. Effective marketing is 75% education and 25% selling. The 75% is educating, it’s inspiring, it’s entertaining, it’s having fun and it’s creating authentic conversations. That creates credibility and trust. Then along the way at the sharper end of the marketing and sales funnel you really need to have a call to action. If you don’t have a call to action, it’s no use. The whole goal of marketing and advertising is to actually get people to act. People don’t like to buy – they like to own. The whole thing about content marketing is not getting trapped in the sexy top end. You really need to go till the sharp end where the action happens and ROI occurs. So sure, 75% of your content should be fun, educational, inspiring, entertaining. But there is this goal. It’s actually asking for money at the end. There’s nothing wrong with that. It makes the world go around. Don’t be afraid to ask for an order. Don’t be afraid to ask for an email.
Scatter: This is a question that we asked of Joe Pulizi last month and I am going to ask the same of you. A school of thought goes that the digital world has the knack of complicating things – killing things before they kind of take root. So many new terms: e.g. In this space of content, we’ve already seen things like content marketing, branded content, native advertising etc. Do you think these terms and fine lines complicate the task for marketers investing in content initiatives as suggested by this school of thought?
JEFF: Okay. I have a term I call the shiny new toy syndrome. The shiny new toy syndrome is actually a real thing. I’ve been trapped in it for years and I escaped it about 2 years ago. I escaped the matrix of the shiny new toy syndrome. For marketers and social influencers there are always new things. Let’s say for example, Snapchat. So the marketer goes: “Okay, how do you use Snapchat. I’ve got to be using Snapchat.” And then “How do you Meercat?” “How do I use Periscope?” How do I use…the list goes on and on! Discovering social media, its power, its impact and how it can be used – I think there is nothing really wrong with that. You know, I am on Google Plus, I’m on Instagram, I’m on Pinterest. How effective are they? Do they bring traffic? Not much. And Google Plus: Does it do much for me? No. Do I post to it? Yes. It takes me just 2 minutes. So what you do is work the 80:20 rule. Make sure that 20% of what you do produces 80% of your results. The shiny new toy syndrome is very, very dangerous because what you end up doing is playing and not benefiting.
Scatter: What are the brands that you think are really at the forefront of content marketing today? Is there a B2B and a B2C example that you think you could probably highlight as benchmarks in content marketing today?
JEFF: I mean B2C Red Bull’s just awesome.
Scatter: We were just going to say besides Red Bull. Sorry we didn’t say that. Is there anyone else?
JEFF: Some big brands like GE. I think Hub Spot does B2B really well. Infact, they are one of the inspirations that got me started on my blog 7 years ago. They said if you have an inkling of what you want to start your business around, what you want to write and create, start a blog. And I read that in a blog post and it stuck with me and a month or two until I actually launched JeffBullas.com. So Hub Spot is brilliant. They actually just create so much content. And some people think they are insane. The latest figures I read, I think end of last year, is they generate 75,000 leads a month through content!!! On top of that you’ve got B2C brands. There is a whole bunch of them. I think we need to look at the likes of Buzzfeed. It is not often seen as a content marketing play. But I think it is. I think Buzzfeed is one of the great innovators in content marketing. They make their money in different ways. When they want to write a headline, they use data. They do things like: ‘This is the hardest quiz you will ever do on how to get a job.’ I quite often go to Buzzfeed just to get an idea about how to do that. Another one that does B2B very well is Lead Pages. They use webinars as their main content driver. They then use a call to action at the end of the webinar to get a “buy” / free subscription. So Lead Pages do it very, very well.
Scatter: We want to move to the career opportunities in content marketing. We’re seeing brands hiring journalists to set up content teams. Teams are being built with the sole KRA build and manage content destinations. What, in your view, are the challenges and the opportunities in a content marketing career?
JEFF: I think content marketing’s got a long way to go. It is still in an embryonic stage. I think careers in content marketing are going to be at the center of the art and the science of content marketing. A content marketer is going to be a data scientist as well and some of them analyze what content resonates and what doesn’t? For me, the content marketing space is evolving and the opportunities within the whole spectrum are going to be huge. What are the challenges? I think understanding how the whole ‘owned’ ecosystem works. For the older generations that work and target the millennium ‘connected’ generation, the challenge for them is escaping the old ideas, being transparent, risk failure and to actually not make money from it for a year. Because reality is that content doesn’t generally produce any instant results. You’ve got to build the assets. At the same time, you’ve got to build the distribution. You’ve got to build the tech and get resources in. Finding the right people is going to be one of the biggest challenges because data scientists are a rare breed. There are not many of them around. The universities of the world are still 4 or 5 years behind on the training that’s required to actually feed the resources required. And this is the situation globally. That’s the problem too – the education system is having trouble keeping up. This is because the pace of change is actually so big. These are some of the challenges.
Scatter: Here is a question from a former journalist: As a former journalist looking to branch out into content marketing, the one question that keeps plaguing me is the credibility associated with articles that come from a content marketer. For example: If I were to do a piece on diabetes that it is sponsored by a company that markets a diabetic drug, or measurement device, the article automatically loses its credibility. I have seen too many articles of dubious credibility on the internet. How does a company that wants to sponsor content ensure that credibility of its content is not compromised by its business interests?
JEFF: Creating your own content can build credibility and trust. So, build a credible content hub and also create the best content. Build this credibility and trust without mentioning the product / brand. It’s really important to build the digital assets that achieve the goals we talked about before: which are essentially (1) educating (2) inspiring and (3) entertaining without actually selling. It’s got to be a lot of the former before you do the last part of selling. It’s just like first date. You can’t kiss a girl on a first date. It’s just not going to be appropriate. But that’s what brand do. They are asking for a kiss on the first date. So it is really important to understand is that you’ve got the build credibility and trust first. Then you actually have the right to ask for the order. And, therefore, content marketing is barely being done by a lot of brands. Because they are coming from the old advertising paradigm.
Scatter: Our last question: You’ve been evangelizing interactive content in a fairly large way. It’s like the buzzword of this year. Does the arrival of something like interactive content etc. necessarily mean that you pull the plug on white papers, newsletters etc.?
JEFF: No. Interactive content is incredibly expensive to produce. You’ve got to be cost effective, you’ve got to be efficient and you’ve got to be lean. When I started my blog, I didn’t have a lot of money. I actually had to be innovative and so I did a lot of curation. I said “Here’s 10 grand authors and here are their top articles.” Innovation comes from desperation, quite often, and I think too much money breeds laziness. Today, a brand is saying “Okay – I am going to create an interactive piece of content. We are going to do a one-hour TV series.” Well, awesome, if you’ve got the money. But the reality is that 99% of the businesses of the world which are primarily small and medium businesses don’t have that capital. So, you’ve got to get smart about this. Small and medium businesses have to think cooperation, collaboration, joint ventures on content. They really need to get their heads around this. But the problem is most businesses still think that they’ve got to do it on their own, don’t collaborate, don’t do joint ventures. So, yeah, interactive content fantastic. But at the end of the day you’ve got to be efficient, you’ve got to actually be able to deliver it. That’s it.