Joe Pulizzi founded the Content Marketing Institute in 2011. He is an author and a podcaster who began content marketing in 2000 when it was unpopular.
Natasha Puri, Content Marketing Lead at Pepper Content, sat down with him to decode and understand the best practices in the crowded field of content marketing.
Natasha: Okay, Joe, so excited to have you here. So my first question is going to be a slightly obvious one, you founded a content marketing institute in 2011, and we’re sitting in 2022 now, so how has content marketing changed since 2011? What are you doing differently? You know, what’s going on?
Joe: So content marketing, you know I started the business in 2000, which is crazy because when you said content marketing people would look at you like you had two heads. It wasn’t even a thing at that point so basically for those people listening we’re talking about how do you communicate with people by not advertising and not pushing your product and service down their throat? Well, you can deliver remarkable content experiences to them regularly through blogs or podcasts or a print magazine, or today through Instagram or Facebook. So today what’s happening is you just have so many channels I mean when I first started my blog in 2007, you had blogged, you could probably try a podcast it was brand new and you had print publications and then you had in-person events you didn’t have a lot more that you could do from a consistency standpoint and now you got a thousand different social channels that you could send content through you could do a lot of things and where I think people are still okay great we’ve got a lot of places we can put our content I think the problem is you have a lot of businesses out there just thinking Hey! let’s just throw content everywhere we can, so What’s changed?
The problem is most people are doing the same thing they were doing back when they started and just saying Oh! let’s just let’s try, let’s throw a blog out there, let’s throw a podcast, let’s do all the things instead of focusing on being great with one or two of those things.
So in 2022, you’ve got a lot of companies now that, yes, so there’s ever a lot of people are struggling, they’re still trying to figure it out, they’re still trying to understand that no we don’t have to talk about our products and services all the time and then you’ve got some more sophisticated ones saying we need to, be, act like media companies like they’re hiring editors, they’re hiring content production people, videographers if you’re looking at where most -so this is around the world- where are most journalists going? where are most content creators going? if they’re not working for themselves, they’re going to non-media companies.
So everyone’s a media company today, we’re all competing with each other, we’re all competing for this attention economy thing -but there I’m sure we’ll talk about it- there are good ways to do it in bad ways to do it and hopefully, the people listening here you’ll think okay well I can make a positive impact on my customer by delivering non-product information, so they’ll listen to me and they won’t ignore me.
Natasha: So I mean it’s great that you say this because my next question was going to be around, you know, the fact that one thing that we say at Pepper and we say to our clients, etc is that “you know every company will be a content company, there are no two ways about it” and when you talk about companies and brands acting like publishers, that’s, I think that’s what you’re trying to say. So I want to dig a little deeper into that. So what is the publisher mindset? And what are, you know, three or five things that a brand can do to act like a publisher?
Joe: Sure! So first of all let’s put aside, everyone listening to this, you have a product or service to sell we’re in the marketing game, we want to sell those products and services but we have to realize that to keep the attention and get the attention we have to be interesting, we have to deliver ongoing value. So you’re kind of at this push and pull mentality, a recommendation is, you can’t boil the ocean with your content.
You have to be very specific with the audience you’re trying to reach and what do you want to deliver? so my first recommendation is if you’re, let’s say you’re a business to business company and you have six or seven decision-makers you have to just focus on one for with your content, I mean, there’s lots of different programs you can run but who’s that specific audience? what’s their pain points? What keeps them up at night? and then be like a publisher. Create what we call a content mission statement or an editorial mission statement, Who are you targeting? What are you going to deliver regularly? and then, What’s in it for them? What’s the outcome for them? and you write that down and then that’s sort of the statement that you and your team live by and then you go forward,
It’s very simple right, but if you think about every great media company that’s ever been created they’ve started with not creating the content, they’ve started with the strategy and the mission. So that’s what I want everyone to start with and then once you do that you’re like okay well how am I going to take that mission and make it real? Then you think about okay, what’s the best way we can start telling stories? are we, have more expertise in audio? do we have people that are good on camera? so we can do some videos or We have wonderful writers and journalists. So you can think about what your home base is. So instead of going and saying I’ve got to do all the things, I got to do a podcast and a video series and a blog No! you don’t, you can market your content in lots of different ways but I want your home base to be one thing. Start with doing one thing amazingly well, it’s the best blog in your industry to that audience, it’s the most impactful podcast in your industry to that audience, you have a regular youtube series, that’s just unbelievable, whatever it is right so focus on those things so I would say if you want to learn the tenets of a media company. Every great media company has started with a fantastic content mission statement and doing one thing well, then they get into all the diversification stuff, but you can’t, you know, fly before. You have to walk before you fly let’s say right so let’s start with something simple and then you can go from there.
Natasha: Yeah I think that’s where we kind of falter I think, we’re in such a hurry to now embrace so many platforms and so many formats that we forget we lose sight of what we’re trying to do. One of the things that now I hear very often and I’ve heard it, you know, earlier on the show as well, we invited someone from drift and even Hubspot I think there is content and community are now being kind of the two words that are spoken in the same breath. I have heard a few talks by you also where you talk about community and building a community and I would love for you to talk more about this you know, How do both kind of feed off each other? and is this the new sort of new thing that we need to be focusing on, Community?
Joe: Sure. So when I look at the community, it’s do you want to build an audience? or a community? you can choose to do either and so let me talk about the difference. Because it’s important to, let’s say that you are building an all, let’s say, you have a podcast, like we’re talking about right now, so you have a podcast and you have an audience of 5000 people, Are those people part of your community? Not necessarily. They’re just listening to your information. They’re hopefully getting value from it and you’re one too many that are building an audience. If you say okay, I want to take the next level and go to a community, that’s where you have to put some work in. That’s where you’ve got some kind of online site. You’ve got multiple listening posts out there where you are involved with that audience base they are reaching out to you and you’re getting back to them immediately.
So, for example, my company, the Tilt, we have a discord community. So that’s just like an online chat where we have a thousand of our super fans and we talk to them regularly. So our audience, we have a newsletter at the tilt and then we send that newsletter to thousands of people and then we go down the funnel if you will you go down to this community so audience leads to the community. So I would think about it like you probably need to start with an audience because you need to build that trust first and by the way, you might stop there because it’s a lot of work to build an audience. You might say you don’t have the resources for it. You’re just going to do that one too many but if you want to take the next level and build the super fans, your true fans, the people that love you, you want to get amazing feedback regularly. You could use it as a research and development tool as well. Then you want to go a little bit deeper. So I think you can actually make a decision as a business about what you want to do and then you know get into this Oh! we’re going to do a Facebook group or we’re going to do, you know wherever you would get people together and tell them to go there so you can talk to them regularly.
Because -by the way, there are a lot of communities already out there. You might just want to insert yourself into somebody else’s community and be an expert and be helpful there and drive them back to your content initiative which honestly is a lot easier to do. Because you could be a part of many other communities. It doesn’t have to be your community but if you feel like you want to take the step up then absolutely you can build your community.
Natasha: You mentioned the ‘Tilt’ and I just received the email that talks about the creator economy expo and your story of how you got started with the tilt. Yeah, my next question is going to be about the creator economy because we also work with a lot of creators in and especially in this post-covid world right, like there’s suddenly so much talk about the creator economy, so What can creators do to find success with content marketing? How can -and I know this is a very, it could potentially it has many answers, it’s a very long answer but- How can you in a concise way tell us, you know two or three things that content creators need to do today to kind of how they can leverage content marketing and find success there?
Joe: Yeah so the, it’s funny you know creator economy wasn’t a term a couple of years ago and kind of like content marketing grew up creator economy is growing up. My idea of a creator economy is a content creator a full-time content creator so this is what they do and they want to become a content entrepreneur so they’re basically building an audience and then building a business on the back of that audience and there are many different ways that you can drive revenue. You can do it through -we talked about content marketing- you can do it so you can sell more products and services, you can sell advertising, you can do events there’s a bunch of different ways to do that.
The funny thing is the tenants of being an amazing content creator and content entrepreneur and the creator economy are the same as content marketing, what’s your mission statement? who’s your audience? what is that one thing that you’re going to build? and build that audience and deliver consistently over a long period and then hopefully you’ll have an audience that you can monetize.
The thing that I like to remind people and maybe where we’re different talking about the creator economy so much talk is about the platforms the big platform and I don’t know how exactly the platforms work in India and what your top three or top four is, but you know you’re talking Facebook, youtube platform, you know whatever google is using these days, amazon, you got Twitch with Amazon, you’ve got I would call that rented land other people’s platforms that you’re building an audience on and there’s no problem with doing that,
Not saying they will, but they have. You know Twitter changes their rules all the time, Facebook does, and Youtube does, I know a couple of people that just got booted off the Youtube platform and they didn’t understand why this stuff happens, so this is good, this is important for all businesses. If you use those social platforms that rented land you have to have some strategy to move off of that or to get what I would say first-party data email addresses. So I love an email list. People say Oh! you’re old school, Joe, you’re still talking about email is still amazing just so I just saw some research that said “the average business person is still subscribed to about 10 different email newsletters that they read regularly” Email still works. Is it tougher to get through all that clutter? So you have to create an amazing email newsletter, so my advice is, if you build on another platform like Instagram or something like that then you have to say Okay, What’s the strategy? to build something that we have more control over, that we can have direct connections with our audience and that’s sort of about, Natasha, I’m talking to everyone saying please don’t just have your strategy on other people’s property. Have something at the end of the day, so if those platforms decide to change all the rules then you have something left with to talk to your customers.
Natasha: You talked about clutter and breaking through the clutter in an inbox but I have a question around something that I often feel, you know, I’m always debating whether this whole thought leadership thing is overdone and I especially I think now in this covid world I feel like an everyone’s doing these courses so anyone is going to teach you to do anything and secondly everyone is a thought leader. So my question to you is, Do you think that things like thought leadership all of this is going to eventually not mean anything? or is there a strategy or a mindset there to win right like to genuinely be a thought leader? So what distinguishes the fakes from the real you know real thought leaders?
Joe: So I mean thought leadership whether you like the term or not or whether we think it’s old I mean it’s been around forever, it’s all about trust right really all we’re trying to do is build trust with our prospects and with our customers and if that makes you a thought leader, fine. But a business you, a business doesn’t care if they don’t want to necessarily, oh we need to be a thought leader I mean I hear you hear marketing people talk about that I do but do you care? No! What you want to do is, you want to build trust okay that’s how do you what behavior do you use so that there is a trust or there’s a possibility of trust and that’s what it gets down to two things is What are you? What’s your hook? What’s your -we call it a content tilt- What’s your differentiation? What makes you special? and I know you run into this all the time you have companies in the same market targeting the same audience talking about the same thing, well you’ll never break out and create trust by doing that because you’re talking about something that oh great somebody else talking about that so if you look at that and you have to spend some time on that what makes you different and that’s you might have to go really niche when you do that and then once you figure that out it’s all about consistency and this is why it’s a content marketing.
Content creation is a long game this is a marathon and it’s not a sprint so most people and you know this well they’ll start a content program and they’ll go six months and they’ll say where the results? like I’ve been doing this for six months! and I’ll say only six months? like come on it takes like if you’re going to build a business so if I’m talking to a content creator and you’re going to build a business off of content minimum 12 to 18 months just to figure out if you’ve got this thing right because it takes a long time.
If you look at how long it takes to build a media company, I grew up in media and generally, we did three-year plans why did we do a three-year plan? because it takes a long time to build trust and build an audience so when you find that base when you find that one thing that you’re going to deliver from that content tilt then you say I need to deliver this consistently over a long period, that’s how thought leaders are born, that’s how you get trust and while everyone else is stopping at doing their campaigns at three months and six months and nine months you’re still going at 12-15-18-24 months. I mean you mentioned at the beginning you talked about content marketing institute we did 22 months of blogging, every day for 22 months until I felt that we had a business now, and then from there as you know it just took off and everything was amazing but if you’d have said Joe look at nine-month mark how are you doing? I just said I don’t have enough results yet it’s not a lot been long enough yet we’re just starting to build our audience and find our content tilt and things like that so back to your question, what’s your differentiation and then you need to deliver consistently and I would just challenge anyone listening to this if you’re in it for the short term three months, six months, nine months go advertise, go interrupt people, go do something else content marketing you need to spend a lot of time and energy on and commit to delivering amazing experiences to your customers on an ongoing basis.
Natasha: So when you talk about and we are all kind of facing this dilemma right, we want to scale content and you want to build something as an individual or as a business and your latest book ‘Content inc’ the subtitle is ‘Start of content first business build a massive audience and become radically successful with little to no money’ which I do not understand and I would love for you to tell us how that can happen? I mean I know we have to buy the book which is insanely expensive in India by the way…
Joe: Is it? oh, that’s terrible!
Natasha: But that aside, yeah so how do how does one scale content with little or no money or little resources?
Joe: Okay so let’s get to if you are a one-person team and you have no money at all you have to do a lot yourself. Let’s put it out there like you have to do all the Keyword research, you have to do all the RD on your audience, you have to do all the writing, all the editing, all the things so can you do this I mean when I started in 2007 it was just me blogging for the first couple years. I didn’t spend a lot of money on it because I did all the work, it’s a full-time job doing that so it is possible to do that but if you’re a business you’re going to want to hire the right people, get the right contractors and do a lot of the things so you can focus on strategy and focus on your customers. So there’s, so if you look at okay what if it’s just writing? so we’re just talking about one thing yeah you have to look at your keywords, you have to look at what our differentiation area is, I mean just from a keyword standpoint you might have 100 to 150 rolling keywords that you’re looking at regularly to figure out which content you need to create to figure out how you can answer your customer’s questions ongoing so again just if I would say if you don’t have a lot of budgets it’s just gonna take longer it’s just honestly gonna take longer because you don’t have the money to market the content that’s the differentiation so if I’m to look at if I was going to look at a big brand.
So at the content marketing institute, we used to work with big billion-dollar companies.
How are you going to make it? is you’re going to put marketing against that content and get that out there so if you just started this thing and you said okay 100% of my budget what do I spend on content creation versus marketing at the beginning it’s probably 30-70. 30% content creation 70% marketing of the content. Now once you build an audience you can change that a little bit so once you have you know at content marketing institute once we had 100,000 subscribers we didn’t have to market to get people anymore it naturally would grow itself so I think that’s the differentiation is that when you if you’re saying, well how much money should I spend? it’s how quickly you want this to happen and how much you want to put marketing behind the content.
Natasha: No, it’s interesting you talk about distribution because I often see that people have content marketing strategies and they have this they have they plan stuff and distribution is such an afterthought still right like and I think…
Natasha: That’s where we, that’s a big miss. Okay, so my last question for you, we’ve talked about how things were in 2011, and 2007 when you started we’ve talked a bit about how what is happening right now and now of course you know where I think there’s this intersection between technology and content where AI is suddenly creating content for you, and things like that are happening so I want to ask from you what do you think is the future of content marketing?
Joe: Oh shoot! I still, you know it’s funny I still feel like we’re so early in the process because you know we’ve been built on this advertising machine over the last 75 years and now we’re starting to say oh we don’t have to advertise we could do content marketing so there are a couple of things Are things going to become more automated from a production standpoint? are humans still need it in that process? Absolutely.
So yeah there are some functions, editing functions, proofing functions, grammar things whatever the case is there’s some new content that can be automated and done by artificial intelligence absolutely and those things are already available. But if you’re talking about you know who tells the best stories right now there’s not necessarily a computer algorithm that takes the place of a human storytelling machine.
So I would just put that out there and say yeah look at the things that you’re doing and automate what you can so that from a future standpoint we can do that in the next few years where I think we’re really headed from a content production, content creation standpoint is we’re seeing this movement back to decentralized we’ve, we went from we started to decentralize when we started the web everybody had their own website it was very hard to get to then you had google and Facebook and amazon and apple and they all consolidated here with this hey you can build content on my platform and we built these companies up and they control all the data and they control all the connections and you still have some people that have the control you have your email list your media companies and things like that but
We’re seeing non-fungible tokens NFTs all these things are just starting to happen and the the token is really important and i think the token will be important in content creation and business models moving forward because if you are a content creator you can now create something with a token base that another person can own so you could actually sell pieces like, I wouldn’t say sell pieces of content, but access to your content through a token through an NFT you can create different experiences and memberships and access whatever the case is I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole with this one but we’re going to see a lot of changes because of the tokenization and that means that we sort as a lot of this power can go back to content creators because content creators can now monetize through token through social tokens through NFTs whatever else they’re gonna be called in the next couple years so i guess listening to this if you’re thinking what the heck do i do just start researching just start looking at what’s going on with web3 because content creators will really play a role there and as businesses there’s an opportunity to create a new business strategy based on this but we’re just that we’re just getting out of the dugout this is a brand new thing we don’t know where it’s going so i would just say really for the next three to five years there’s just an opportunity to just focus on one audience and deliver something amazing and do it on a consistent basis which is what i’ve told people to do 10 years ago we’re still doing the same things just use technology where it makes sense to be smarter about it.
Natasha: Amazing! I think wonderfully summarized and I think I have everything I wanted to thank you, Joe! I hope at some point we can get you here in India for something, when this, when the world opens up, it would be such a delight to hear you in person and I know you’re not doing events anymore, is what I read in the mailer today, but I mean I would just love to have a one-on-one, like a face-to-face chat with you. That would be amazing!
Joe: Hopefully we’ll get, hopefully, the world will change in a year and we’ll see what happens, right.
Natasha: Yeah and thank you for everything that you’ve done for my career, you’ve played a massive role and I hope we see more of you!
Joe: Thank you very much! I appreciate the opportunity and great questions, and I enjoyed it.
Natasha: Thank you!