‘You Don’t Need to Be a Great Writer, Just Be a Decent One Who Knows the Customer’
There is no one-stop solution to the content marketing needs of any company. Everything depends on where you are at in your customer journey. However, no matter what, understanding the customer and spending a good amount of time grasping their pain points is a must!
Lisa Banks, Chief Content Strategist at SaaSpirin chats with Mohammed Sajjad, Sr Sales & Marketing Director, at Pepper Content about her journey in content marketing and what makes her strategies tick and what doesn’t.
1. Please give us a quick introduction about how you got into the content industry.
Right now, I am working with SaaSpirin, which is a small, done-for-you blogging agency. We work mostly with up-and-coming SaaS companies that want to get into content marketing to grow their businesses.
I originally started a little over 20 years ago. I've seen a lot of changes in this industry. I started as a copywriter after studying marketing in my undergraduation and then doing an MBA. So I've come at this from the business perspective rather than the editorial track.
2. What made you join this journey of content? How did you get into this, and then what made you stick with this for so long?
Well, it was by accident, like many great things that happen in life. After I completed my MBA, I knew I was interested in marketing. I wanted to teach English abroad for a while. I went to Japan, lived there for a few years, and then thought, why not get a real job while I am here? I applied for a job as a copywriter and translator with a telecom company in Tokyo.
My translation abilities were not so strong, so they said, we like you, come work with us as a copywriter. So I got to work with their ad agency creating cell phone materials, catalogs, marketing flyers, etc. When it was time to move back to the US, I wasn't sure I wanted to stay on that track, but I found that I already had a portfolio built, and it was a really easy transition to an agency here. That gave me a lot more exposure to different formats of a copy. And around that time, websites were just coming up, blogging was very new, and SEO was cutting edge. I got to grow up through that era.
I hopped into an SEO company from the ad agency, and I found that this career track gives you a lot of flexibility. I worked from home for most of my life. I grew my family and also progressed my career so I could go from copywriting to becoming the SEO agency's marketing director.
3. What's the fundamental difference between working in Japan versus the US from a copywriting perspective?
While working for a Japanese company and preparing English language materials, we had to make sure they were appealing to the English audience and true to the Japanese text. So that was very different. You know, their audience for the materials was an international audience living both within the country and then also people outside Japan. So that was a major difference.
4. What is the most exciting or the most tiring part of the job that you do?
The exciting part for me is the hit you get when something is completed well; when you get good feedback, you can see comments on an article you've published, when the keywords start to show up, or when you can see the progression over time with the curve going up.
It is exciting to complete something and see the journey as it grows.
The most tiring part is the legwork behind all projects, which involves tracking many small details. So when you have multiple projects on the go, you want to know what is the status of everything, what needs to happen next, and keeping that moving; that can get tiring sometimes.
5. What is one of the top key things you typically track daily to see if a particular piece of content is a superhero or super zero?
Where the company and its content are in its journey will dictate what you're looking for to see if you're on a successful track with content. For example, if you are a well-established company and your website has a high domain rating, you can publish content, and you will see keywords happen and see visibility. So you're probably going to look further down the line and say, am I getting leads from this? Is this building my business concretely?
But if you're a small business that is starting with content and if you're looking for immediate results, you're going to have a hard time staying motivated. You need to look for the small indicators first, like the number of blog posts you're able to publish or do you have a consistent cadence. And then, as you publish things, you have things up for a little while, then you can track some keywords and measure visibility and traffic.
6. What's your take on quality or quantity?
Quality versus quantity can mean different things to different people. We've come through a phase where super long mega content has been a signal for quality. I'm not a huge fan of that.
Just because it's long doesn't mean that it's high quality. We had a landing page for a client that was 700 words, and it gained such amazing traction with the search engines that it became one of their biggest drivers. They went from under a thousand visitors per month to their blog to 75,000 in just a few months because we hit on a trending topic. We put 12 hours into preparing those 700 words.
The amount of time you put into a piece of content defines its quality.
7. With the way the future of work is transitioning to more of a hybrid model, what does it really change for content marketers like you? Are you comfortable working with remote teams, or feel having an in-house team is critical?
90% of my career, I have worked remotely, and that model works well. I took an office job where I was leading a small marketing team locally. I did that for a year, and I missed my home office. But there are some intangibles to be gained from seeing people face to face.
You could make either work, but many pluses exist in a remote work setting. Most companies can have their team distributed remotely, giving them many more benefits.
8. How do you balance in-house teams versus executing through agencies of freelancers?
We are an agency, and we do work with freelancers. We have a core team of strategists who do most of our work for clients. We have an editor who sees everything that comes through and helps maintain consistency. We have a growing pool of very reliable writers, and each has its own niche expertise.
That gives us a lot of flexibility that we wouldn't have if we just had everybody hired and set. We can also ramp up our expertise areas by outsourcing.
9. If you have to build a content marketing engine from scratch with limited resources and time, how would you go about creating that ecosystem?
It's very important to have your processes set. Some people are naturally process-driven, others are more creative, and their flow is messier.
If you want to drive results quickly with a small team, you've got to have a set process, timings, and roles understood so that everybody knows what's happening next and can pass that baton to make things happen.
Because if you end up with a lot of content in the works and not publishing it, you will not see results. It's going to take longer. It's very important to progress through that pipeline. So even if you're publishing one piece per month, keep at it. Don't let it fall.
10. If we give you a platform that does everything like a Salesforce of content, what would that change for you?
Suppose we had a platform that did everything that has to happen when you are creating and marketing with content; that would be awesome. Some parts are easier because there are already systems in place. But, for example, integrating the distribution aspect seamlessly is a challenge for many of us. Having that would be a big time saver.
Currently, Airtable has been super helpful. But it only handles some of the tasks.
11. What has been your secret sauce in terms of content marketing success?
What I've seen play out over and over in the projects I've been involved in is figuring out where to put your effort when it comes to what you're going to write about and what topics you will put your energy into.
And time and again, I've seen the ROI come from going after difficult topics, things that people have danced around in their articles, or they've come up with quick answers, but it's not going as deep or as helpful as the reader could need.
Some people avoid doing that because it's easy to find things written online and cobble something together. But, for example, if you have to write on – When should you expect to see results from your content marketing? – There are so many scenarios here, and it is a difficult piece to write.
So try really hard to produce a piece that will give anybody who looks at it an 'aha' moment.
That has been my secret sauce throughout my content marketing life – just searching out those difficult questions and trying to answer them as best possible for a prospect.
12. Who have been the most influential people who have made you what you are today?
When I was starting, there was an author called Bob Bly. He wrote the Copywriter's Handbook. And so when I got my first job at an advertising agency, I bought his book, and I just devoured it. He had a really interesting saying that stuck with me through the years – You don't have to be a brilliant writer to do well in this industry. You just have to be a decent writer who uses their head to tap into what people need.
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