You’re working like crazy to create tons of marketing content. So why don’t aren’t you getting the green light on sales? How do you engage your customers to take action? Bob Tripathi interviews Message Strategist, Tamsen Webster, on why so much content falls flat and how pain can be the enemy of long-term change. Watch this interview and learn how a sound content strategy can turn the red light to green and move a customer to say ‘Yes!’.
Bob: All right folks, welcome. We have a great guest today. And today we’re going to be talking about content marketing. And for that, we have industry’s leading voice on all things content and she is Tamsen Webster. Tamsen, welcome. So happy to be doing this. I know we connected many many years back and we were planning to do something with content but that didn’t pan out. But I’m so happy that this is happening right now and we’ll be able to get this going.
So Tamsen, there are a lot of things going on around content. You know we every day we hear oh create a lot more content and then I think both of us know how creating more content is not the answer, but I believe the answer is how to create the right strategic content and how to create that content which gets the right personas and, as the title of the conversation right now, is how to create content that most likely your prospect say ‘yes’. Right? So welcome! I want to learn more about how to create that content that people say yes to. So go for it.
Don’t Create More Content Just to Create Content
Tamsen: Well, I think as you say we all know that we don’t need to just create more content. We need content that creates more response in the directions that we’re looking for. And I mean, that makes sense. We’ve got a lot we’ve got a lot riding on it. And I think more often than not we don’t get those green lights, as I like to call them, that we’re looking for. We get a lot of red lights instead. And those red lights can take a lot of different forms.
I think they take kind of three primary forms:
- The Content gets no response. We just don’t get any attention when we create that content. It’s like it just goes out into the ether and nobody responds to it. And we don’t know why.
- When readers fail to take action. We put it out there in the world and maybe even people engage with it but then they just kind of peter out like they never do anything, they never kind of take the next step, or I’m not sure which is worse that they do nothing or that they go with a competitor but either way they’re not going with us. That’s not good.
- They regret their decision. And then one that I feel keenly, because I think it’s probably one of the most painful for us as marketers, is if you’re in marketing or sales is if someone sees your stuff, they act on it.
Maybe they buy from you and then they regret the decision. And so that they just don’t have any confidence with you. They suffer from buyer’s remorse and they kind of nit pick and just make your life a living hell and a lot of ways because they’re just like well what about this. Can we do it this way? Why is it this way? Why is it this way? I think we’ve all experienced that. And that’s a super frustrating place. So it’s one of the things that I’ve really wanted to spend a lot of time in and figure out how is it we can increase the chances that people instead of getting those red lights or no lights, that they give us the green light that we’re looking for.
Difference between Content that Drives Action and Content that Drives Sustained Action
Bob: Nice. Yeah. I mean that is the whole purpose right of creating content. And I know you speak at so many conferences you really keynoting a digital summit and things like that. So how do you go about creating that. You know like I think everyone understands you want to create the best content and a lot of content and the best content because we all want everything. So what is the process and how do you go about it?
Tamsen: Well, I think before even getting the process, because the process doesn’t really matter if you don’t really understand why you’re doing it. And so the thing is that there’s plenty of things that people do that actually get kind of temporary green lights that get people to go ‘Oh sure’. But then again if we’re really looking for how do we get people to keep doing that, not regret the decision, not go with somebody else. Then we have to figure out ‘What does that look like?’ And so one of the things we have to understand there’s a real big difference in my mind between content that drives action meaning now that click or yellow have a meeting with, and content that drives sustained action which I’m going to refer to as change.
Content that creates and marketing messaging that creates an actual shift in thinking or behavior. And both are necessary and we need both. But I think that we’ve pretty much as an industry figured out how to drive action. But I don’t think we’re nearly as good at figuring out how to drive change. And what I’ve discovered is that the tools that we use to drive action actually work fundamentally against driving change. And the primary tool that we use to drive action is pain. We kind of know over and over again we’re taught that we shouldn’t emphasize the gaps between what people have and what they want.
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We should emphasize the gaps between the status quo what it could be we should emphasize the peril that they may be and the consequences of not acting. Our system make the pain of status quo exceed the pain of change and we do this over and over and over again. But the unfortunate thing is that it goes against a fundamental human need and that fundamental human need is to be seen as smart, capable and good.
And the problem is like if you’re showing people stuff they don’t want or kind of scolding them for not wanting your stuff already or you’re trying to make people believe stuff that they don’t believe or you’re trying to make them wrong for what they’re doing so far, you’re violating that fundamental human need.
And that pain, full stop, is the enemy of long term change because, think about it, you’re not going to continue to do something that hurts you. If you view all of us learned at some point not to touch a hot stove you didn’t touch it by just like Well let me should make sure. Let me make sure. Let me make sure like it you will not continue to do something that’s painful for you.
And so this fundamentally is why people don’t stick with something whether it’s a diet or whether it’s your business long term is because for some reason you’ve made doing that painful for them mentally. So their process to kind of create content that makes people say ‘yes’ is really one that is designed to relieve pain to relieve the pain of the decision, not introduce it or if you have introduced any amount of pain to immediately assuage it and give them the balm for it.
Should You Create Content that Focuses on Fear?
Bob: And I think that is wrong but there is also this fear tactic right. So a lot of the content focuses on fear?
Tamsen: Fear is another form of pain. So it’s the same thing it’s you know the fear comes from activating this this this belief that you may not have been as smart or as capable or as good as you thought you were. And that’s just another form of the pain so you’re absolutely right, Bob. Like we we trade in fear and that fear creates pain and pain is the enemy of long term change. It will 100% drive action– here’s lots of data that supports that, but we will not continue to do something that is painful for us to do, and we will not continue to act long term in that.
Bob: And so listen I own you know let’s do the classic Widget company. So let’s say I own a widget company and you know my sales team needs new leads because they’ve been saying that marketing doesn’t provide us with good leads. Marketing is saying like you know what let’s do content marketing. Yeah. So. So that means we need to hire someone to write our content. So how what would you suggest to that content writer to create the type of content.
Tamsen: This goes back to my point. The problem can’t be solved just by the content writer. It has to be solved by the strategy of the organization with how they’re choosing to engage in the market. And the reason why I say that is because the content writer needs something to write about. And the thing is in order to relieve this pain of decision the way to think about it, Bob, is this that a lot of times we think about how we’re going to make our case for why they should do our thing.
How can we make sure that we give them all the reasons and the benefits and we create the differentiation about why we’re better? We’re basically say like buy our stuff because what you’re doing is wrong; you’re business is going to go to crap if you don’t do it and our stuff is better. And so you’re gonna have to believe us. But just trust us and then buy. That’s how most of it most of the time it works. So that’s building our case, but the thing that’s least painful for someone is actually to build their case for your stuff. Which means don’t give them all of your reasons you need to give them their reasons.
Well, so one of the first things that this content writer would do is go to the leadership of the organization and say ‘What question does our audience our clients or prospects have that they’re actively looking for right now?’ Like think what would they be searching for Google for that our product or our service is an answer to?’ That’s what has to start. It’s not and it may be that they’re trying to solve a problem. But we need to start with understanding where they are first and start with something that they want.
Look at Customer Intent before Creating a Comprehensive Content Strategy
Bob: And this is a great point because most of the times that we have seen is people still on what they think is the problem right. And the customers problem the way they define it is so different. So one of the things is to look at such intent that you just mentioned Google. What other ways can they find that extract that kind of information?
Tamsen: I mean Google’s great and they are looking at how people land on your Web site in the first place. What’s the language that they’re using? Talk to your front line. Talk to your front line and prospective customer facing folks what are the questions? How do they how did they frame it? I mean we get it comes from. Unfortunately it comes from ourselves or the fact that we’re saying well we have to differentiate.
We have to set ourselves apart. But if all the language that you’re using out there in the market is stuff that people don’t understand because it’s like well it’s your proprietary way to frame a problem. They’re not looking for your proprietary way to frame a problem. They’re trying to solve their problem. So your job, like the heart of building their case for your idea, is to get them to move from answering their wrong question to answering your right question.
Tamsen: So for instance, it can be if you think the right questions to be, I don’t know, what’s the question that I as a company that wants to sell to the widget makers would have to say ‘OK well how can we.’ You need to make sure that you have a comprehensive content marketing strategy. Well, the widget company is saying how can we sell more widgets? And what your job from a form particularly from an early stage or awareness level.
From a content messaging standpoint should be what to get people from you know in the course of that concern or repeated exposure to content, to move from asking the question how do we sell more widgets to say in order to sell more widgets. I need a comprehensive content marketing strategy. How do I build a content marketing strategy that you need to move them from their question to your question? And that’s kind of the fundamental things that you can’t do that you can’t move them if you don’t have good clarity about where they are right now where you need it.
That’s fundamentally where you need to start is what question are they asking right now? And then you then you start to build again their case for their idea. Now the next step is to say, well they’ve been trying some approach to that. So far they’ve been doing something know they’ve been. It’s not that they’re not trying to sell more widgets they are. So we need to look at what have they been doing and what do they think the barriers are. And if they think their barriers are time money or just people don’t know enough about us yet or whatever you can look at it and say OK well your focus for a good reason you’re focused on you know are you in all the right channels.
And if you know the content marketing company is saying ‘yes but it doesn’t matter if you’re on all the right channels.’ If the content that’s in it isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. Then you can start to say OK. So for good reason you were looking at all the channels but there’s another component to making sure that you get the awareness that you’re looking for and that is is the content that’s in those channels actually doing what you needed to. So you’re finding this what I call a problem of perspective you’re you’re doing that by finding what’s right and what you think they’re doing wrong. In other words why would they be doing that? Like why would they think that that’s a problem. Give them credit for that and then you create a contrast with your approach to it as well.
Creating Content for Different Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
Bob: How do you differentiate? That’s a great point you know like you know you recreate again going back to step number one. But once you have found out what is it what’s in it for them. I think most of the times as companies we focus on the features that we do and not on the need. So then, have you seen different type of content along the buyer journey if somebody is on the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, lower down the funnel again. How big of a difference are you seeing?
Tamsen: Well, I mean it’s well that’s an important point, Bob, because you cannot use the same message to talk to people at three different points of the journey like they’re asking different questions. And if you’ve done your job you’ve actually moved them. So I like to mentally I like to use this mental analogy of American football field where the the end zone is like they are happy customers of you. But and you’re the coach and your job is to move them down the field.
A lot of times what we’re doing is you know there at the other end of the field there you know ninety nine yards away from where we want them to be. And we’re essentially we’re essentially out there with Hail Mary messaging or basically saying our stuff is awesome come on down. And it may work occasionally but just like a Hail Mary pass like it’s called a Hail Mary pass for a reason like it doesn’t happen that often.
Tamsen: So we have to understand that that messaging needs to link; there isn’t just the messaging. It’s what’s our early stage messaging? What’s our middle stage messaging? What’s our late stage messaging? Because just like football you’re going to play a very different game when someone is close to the end zone than when they’re very far away. And so you know to me it’s you know the format doesn’t it.
It doesn’t matter to me whether you know what format you use. It’s the heart of the message you know far away the heart of the message should be kind of like why what you do. Why have you been struggling with answering this question for yourself in the first place? And again that high stage messaging just might be like Hey you’ve been struggling with your awareness because you’ve been more focused on channels (again for good reason) than you have on the content flowing through it. So we need to make sure that you’re kind of doing something that really looks at your content and its quality in a way that includes the channels but reflects them as well.
And then once they’re kind of at that point they’re like OK well now that I need to kind of comprehensive strategy like what’s the best way to build one of those strategies. So that’s their next question and then you want to kind of get to a point where you’re setting up the answer to that question in a way that goes, Oh. So the best way to build a comprehensive content marketing strategy is to make sure that it equally meets the needs of us and our audience.
So then now they’re there now their next question should be Oh how do I build a content marketing strategy that equally meets the needs of me and my audience? And then eventually you’re just moving them down the field until what you’ve built is a path to all their answers to their own questions lead to you.
Don’t Create Content for Different Channels
Bob: That’s that’s how you need to think about it. That’s great. I mean we have also seen as different content resonates with different audience you know the types of rules and things like that. Have you seen any major differences into what diverse content people were producing say five years back? You know we used to do a lot of webinars if you remember?
Tamsen: I mean I will fully admit that I have you know I designed the business that I have because I’ve never I’ve never loved chasing channels in the first place. It’s always seemed to me that the channels are absolutely secondary to the message and the content that’s in them. As far as formats. I mean obviously the thing that’s really taking off is audio and video still.
But I think the reason why people are struggling is back to this reason that we’re not actually looking at what is it that we’re trying to do. We’re trying to tell our story in that content. We’re not helping them build theirs. That’s the fundamental difference. And that’s the reason why I think people, no matter what format that they’re talking about, and no matter how those things change, until you can figure out how to build their story for you, you’re going to continue to struggle.
Bob: Nicely done. So I know. Maybe I don’t know if you want to say but any clients that or any companies that you’ve seen in this thing who’s doing this really well as an example?
Tamsen: I mean it. I got lots of examples of people that don’t do it well. I mean the thing is it’s it’s hard to see it alot of times out in the out in the world. But you know some of the work that you know work you know client that I use a lot of my own stuff is a client called Human workplaces. They do a lot of work on engagement culture training and so they have done this a very important shift into helping people into helping people understand just asking how can we get more engaged employees. What is needed is actually a question that needs to be focused more and how do we make sure our employees feel engaged with our success? And what they’ve been doing out there I think is is very much in line with what I’m talking about but I’m not I’m not gonna say you’re gonna go see like all their content everywhere it’s like Oh well absolutely that’s that’s should be doing it. But I think that’s very helpful.
What is the best way to do Content Distribution?
Bob: There’s also a lot of talk about distribution because everyone is creating this content and then there is this whole part of distribution like you’re creating this and how do you put it out there and you know how you more in boundd folks, not just in Bound, but even from a sales point of view. What have you seen people not doing right when it comes to content distribution portal?
Tamsen: And that is not my area of expertise at all because I mean like I said it’s there are people who talk about that really well that is their area of expertise. Like where and where I’m focused is; making sure that your ideas and your content are strong enough to build that distribution system on.
Tamsen: So if I’m going to see that there is you know oh if I look out there and see what the mistake is that people are trying to distribute content that you’re taking news extreme is basically built on a tagline. I mean you cannot build a whole content system or content marketing system or even a concept distribution system on content that’s basically one line deep like it’s your tagline
We help people change lives. Right? And like you have to understand kind of what your full story is in order to be able to come up with that and so that’s why I just keep coming back to that it’s like you know what if you haven’t solved this problem then the distribution system is not your problem. I could have solved this problem and more power to you. And then you go figure it out. But if you kind of look at it and think that the distribution system is the problem go back and make sure that your content is strong enough to be distributed first.
How do you structure your content marketing teams?
Bob: Right. Right. Right. Now have you seen like everyone like the way people are building their content teams and organizations have you seen that going through a major change like you know we had like this Chief Content officers and things like that. Has it died down? Where do you see that space in the market?
Tamsen: I see what I see and I you know I have just various peaks in the market and particularly because I typically work with a lot of startups and founders and then also with a lot of challenger brands particularly commodity and market and manufacturing areas. And what I’ve seen is an appreciation for the integration not just of content but of story and narrative.
Tamsen: And so if you see any I say that the new chief content officer or the folks that are chief storytelling officers and that people who are understanding in my mind this now is that it isn’t so much about the deliverable of the content and it’s much more about how do we find the intersection between not just our marketing strategy but our market strategy. What is our strategy and our understanding for how we will approach and interact with the market and our content and our storytelling and our narrative building is a piece of that.
Tamsen: And so what I’m what I’m seeing is a deeper appreciation you know I see I get clients like even in the building and construction industry that are saying, how can we add storytelling to our proposals? Like how you know these like three hundred page proposals? Like how do we get that in there how do we make sure that our story comes across? And it seems like an impossible thing. How do we get our story across if we’re trying to build a story they’ll tell themselves. But that’s where you have to kind of go back and say we start with what they want and then you have to find what’s right and what what they’re doing wrong. You have to give them a problem. They can solve.
Tamsen: You have to give them information that allows them to do that. And eventually if you do that you do it well then they’re going to come to your conclusion. And that really is that thinking.
You know it’s obviously I’m doing trying to do my part to get more people to understand that that’s really where the long term power is going to be in content strategy. But if I see a shift it is a shift in an understanding that, exactly I was talking about–that it’s less about the format and much more about do we actually have something that’s substantive and strong for us to say.
And that goes way beyond a brand positioning statement or something else. It’s mentally understanding you. Do you understand the narrative of your business? Do you understand the story that you need your prospects and clients to finish / Do you understand the story they’re telling themselves that you can help them finish? I just think we’ve taken a very one sided view of that today. I’m starting to see that shift.
Should you hire an in-house content writer or outsource to an agency?
Bob: Absolutely. I mean you know we have we work with quite a few startups a mentor at 500 Startups and other places. And one of the first things I see founders do is create a job rack for content right. But on the other hand I think outsourcing and getting a consultant or an agency to do your content is much better. So when do you think. Where do you stand on that.
TamsenWell again I don’t think you’re content writers gonna do you any good if you don’t know what the narrative is that you’re building.
And I and since I’ve you know I’ve spent 20 years in brand and message strategy. I spent five 15 of that on client side and five of that in agencies. And the thing that I’ve discovered over and over again is if you completely outsource your content and your narrative building, it will never work for you. That’s been my experience.
Because it’s way too easy for the client or the organization to to kind of anything that goes wrong with that message they’re gonna blame on the outside agency. There’s not enough ownership of it. And that doesn’t mean that you have to bring up completely in, but what I’ve seen in work really very very well when there is an organization, that does want to work with an outside agency is that they should they should come to agreement together on what not the brand is just the positioning of what the narrative is that they’re trying to build.
What questions do they help people answer what problems of perspective that they don’t know about? Do they help people solve? What are the fundamental assumptions and values that they share with their audience that their organization has that must be present in the company and the prospects that they talk to and their and what are the variations in approach that they represent in the marketplace? If you have those elements then you and you’ve got agreement on those elements then an outside agency can then go and help you build on those elements. but then they’re the ones that because the organization recognized and helped build they have much more ownership of.
SoI don’t think you have to go outside. I don’t think I think it’s enormously helpful because I think a lot of times the expertise of the business should be focused on the business and not on the marketing piece of it. It’s really hard for someone within an organization to stay up on all the changes in content distribution and formats and all of that but the owner of the narrative even if they get help of it should always be the company itself. If they’ve got that then and they’ve got a belief that the agency that they’re working with understands that then they’re going to be much more powerful.
And what I see particularly with founders is they hope that that copywriter will somehow be able to figure out what’s magical about their business. And that’s just not how copywriters are trained. You need someone who understands strategy. You need someone who understands market strategy and the vagaries of content to be able to help you say, given what you’re trying to happen and given the people that you’re actually for, which is never everyone by the way, we need a narrative. This is the narrative that actually unites those two things together. And that has to be done at the top levels of the business. It just does.
Because it affects everything about the business affects what kinds of products you develop and it affects who you go after it affects how your salespeople are going to approach the market it affects yes it affects the content and storytelling but it’s fundamentally a business strategy decision and because it isn’t anything that you do in the marketplace is a product of that narrative. So if you don’t actually surface it and actually talk about it then it doesn’t matter. You can’t just like say this is the brand that we wish we have and push down because this narrative this thing I call the red thread is what’s creating all of that in the first place if that’s what you have to identify and then you’re gonna get way more out of your investment in some kind of outside outside agency.
How Content Writers can articulate the company’s brand vision….
Bob: Yeah because they can articulate your vision and we know why you are there in the first place.
Bob: And I think that articulation is what the agency or the writer can do better than you thing that I didn’t ask you that you want to talk about. I know I ask you a few things. But to say anything you ask that you want to get it off your chest.
Tamsen: No I mean I think you’ve obviously hit on a lot of my my my. Carbon rage points which just as you know I think it’s super super important to make sure that you’re that you’re strong, what you have is strong enough to build on.
Tamsen: And what I see people do all the time organization’s founders do all the time is that they zero in on a tagline or they think if we could just get our like three brand pillars it’ll be enough. But the problem is like when it comes out and you start to see that with day to day it’s kind of like trying to blow up a low res image right. If you’ve got a low res image if you blow it up it looks like crap and it doesn’t work because there’s not enough data in it.
And that’s what I see happen all the time. And so what I think what I what works better what I’ve just seen over and over again and what I’ve seen with organizations I’ve worked with and for is that when you understand what the full story is then and then you can shrink it down to that thumbnail you can drink it down to that one line but you can’t do it in reverse.
Bob: Absolutely. I’m so tired of looking at those brand fillers. Everyone has some policy. But how do our audience reach you.
Tamsen: Sure. So I guess the easiest way to find me is all of my stuff is at tamsenwebster.com and I’m present on all the social networks.
Tamsen: I am probably most active on Twitter and Instagram with a little bit of LinkedIn but you can find me there. I’m Tamsen Webster on everything but Twitter and onto him on Twitter. I am Tamir No.
Bob: So here I am folks Tamsen Webster. Thank you so much for your time. Does your welcome. I feel sorry if I fired you up this morning. I know it’s always tough but yeah you know when you live and breathe what you’re passionate about there’s no way to hide it. That’s right. Thank you so much for doing it. Yeah. Thank you so much.
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