Sarah Sung

Director of Content Marketing at Scribd

A Journey into the Heart of Content Marketing with Sarah Sung

Join us for an enlightening conversation with Sarah Sung, the Global Editorial Director at Scribd, recognized as one of the top 250 content marketing leaders worldwide. Sarah provides valuable insights on navigating the shift from paid to organic marketing during economic challenges, delves into her current key performance indicators (KPIs), and highlights the enduring significance of SEO in establishing thought leadership. Through her storytelling, Sarah vividly illustrates how content marketing can address user needs and forge meaningful consumer connections.

Sarah Sung, Director of Content Marketing at Scribd, talks to Prasad Shetty, Sales Manager at Pepper Content, about all this and more.

1. Please tell us about your journey.

I'm Sarah Sung. Currently, I hold the role of Global Editorial Director at Scribd, where I've been immersed in the world of content marketing for many years. But, you know, life has its twists and turns, and I never imagined I'd end up here. Back then, I had my sights set on a career in environmental policymaking. I even attended law school with a deep passion for the subject. However, the California bar exam had other plans for me, and I faced the challenge of trying to pass that notoriously tough test. It wasn't meant to be, but as they say, when one door closes, another one opens.

That's how I found myself venturing into the world of copywriting, starting at Gap. My days were filled with naming jeans and crafting in-store signage, which was quite the creative experience. Soon, I transitioned to digital copywriting at Travelocity, opening up a new chapter in my career. One pivotal moment came when I started working for a local San Francisco magazine. Little did I know that this would be the stepping stone to launching a unique lifestyle platform called "Urban Daddy," catering specifically to the vibrant San Francisco community. Our daily newsletter became a hit, keeping residents updated on city happenings, grand openings, and everything else. I dedicated a good eight years of my life to this exciting endeavor.

But, as they say, change is the only constant. My journey led me to Under Armour, then I took charge of content for MyFitnessPal and connected with like-minded fitness enthusiasts. It was a rewarding experience that paved the way for my current role here at Scribd.

"You want the majority of your content to be data-driven, insights-driven. You know it will resonate with your audience or the audience you're going after."

2. What are your current KPIs – top of the funnel, lead generation, or thought leadership?

In my view, it's crucial to cover all aspects of marketing. Paid marketing still holds a significant role in our strategy, and we should continue nurturing our partnerships. However, what sets content marketing apart is its authenticity. Our content must address user problems, establish us as authorities in our field, and align with what our audience cares about. Without this connection, our brand won't resonate with anyone.

We also pay close attention to engagement metrics. We assess whether our content guides users towards our products, helping to solve their issues. We still track the traditional KPIs like impressions, click-through rates, and time spent on pages. Nevertheless, SEO is increasingly becoming a pivotal aspect of our strategy.

Organic search at the top of the funnel remains a rich territory for exploration, especially as AI continues to evolve. It's a blend of various elements and thought leadership is fascinating in SEO. Thought leadership demonstrates that we are the trusted authority in our chosen subject matter. It's a link that ties together our content marketing, communications, and PR efforts, giving our marketing a sense of purpose and direction.

3. In the quality vs. quantity debate, which side do you lean toward – quality, quantity, or a mix of both?

When starting in the world of content creation, I believe it's essential to balance quantity and quality. Initially, you might not have the data, readership, or SEO authority to gauge what truly constitutes high-quality content. It's a learning process. However, as your content program evolves and gains momentum, the focus naturally shifts toward quality. You start investing more in the URLs that drive traffic to your site, continuously improving them. If a subject matter or story resonates with your audience, you strive to enhance it, bolstering its authority.

I follow a sort of 70-30 rule in this regard. Most of your content should be grounded in data-driven insights, ensuring it genuinely connects with your target audience. Then, allocate around 30 percent of your efforts to chasing trends and exploring new content topics that could become your trademark. This is the exciting part of the job – venturing into uncharted territory. In essence, it's about striking a balance between safe, proven content strategies that ensure your program's success and taking intelligent risks to discover what works best. After all, you only truly learn by doing, not standing on the sidelines.

4. What's your take on AI's influence, particularly generative AI or AI in general?

AI is undoubtedly the way forward, but it's a bit of a wild ride. I sincerely hope we can introduce some more regulation into this rapidly advancing field. With the pace at which AI is evolving, there's room for unintended consequences that we need to address. As an industry, we must take a step back and consider the implications more thoroughly. Nevertheless, I'm genuinely excited about what AI can bring, especially regarding content creation.

Sometimes, the most challenging part of crafting content is facing that intimidating blank page or screen. However, AI-powered prompts can be a game-changer, helping us overcome that initial hurdle and speeding up the creative process. This means we can invest time refining and conducting in-depth research when needed. It's our responsibility as humans to ensure that we correct any biases that may creep into AI systems. It is alarming that these machines are trained on questionable material, and we must prevent discrimination from persisting.

I believe humans still have a crucial role in this AI-driven landscape. We should harness AI to enhance efficiency without eliminating the human touch. After all, we are, in many ways, the best "machines" out there.

"AI is the future. I think it's still unclear exactly where we're going with it. There's so much potential in terms of content."

4. Considering the array of tools and rapid AI evolution, would you explore a unified platform for seamless content creation and execution for brands like yours?

Regarding content management systems, it's like searching for a unicorn; nobody seems to have found the perfect one yet. In my team, we rely heavily on the Google suite. It may be old-school, but it does the job efficiently. Additionally, we use tools like, Confluence, JIRA, and Trello, each serving a specific purpose. I believe every team needs to find their groove with these tools.

My dream, which has yet to materialize in any company I've worked for, is to have a single, customized content management system that caters to our unique needs. That would be an absolute game-changer. However, for now, it's a bit scattered across the board.

In the world of social media management, we're currently using Hootsuite. While I've experimented with other platforms, Hootsuite is closest to centralizing our data and analytics in one place, sparing us the hassle of piecing it together. There's progress being made, and we're moving in the right direction, but that perfect solution remains elusive.

5. What do you love most about content marketing, and what's the one aspect you don't enjoy?

What I find truly remarkable about content marketing is its versatility; it's applicable across the board. It's all about providing context, adding meaning, and infusing authenticity into our work. The fun part lies in identifying the content topics we want to excel in and tailoring them to meet our audience's needs. It's about filling the information gaps and delivering precisely what they want. Being a source of value for people and sharing quality content is something I genuinely enjoy.

However, the challenging aspect is that it's time-consuming and not always easy to measure. Content marketing sometimes gets a bad rap for being perceived as nebulous or lacking a clear strategy. There is a strategy, but it doesn't always fit into traditional metrics like LTV to CAC. The second aspect I appreciate is our ability to be scrappy in content creation. You can assemble a team of talented writers to generate content and bridge those gaps in subject matter. However, the real challenge arises when you must demonstrate your value to individuals who are solely fixated on numbers.

Content marketing is more nuanced than just quantitative data, and conveying its importance to those with a rigid numbers-only mindset can be tricky. Yet, when you have leaders who understand its inherent value, they become your strongest advocates. Balancing these perspectives can be quite a task, but it's an integral part of what makes content marketing both rewarding and challenging.

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Global Marketing Leaders 2023 by Pepper Content is an exclusive curation of the brightest minds who have revolutionized the world of marketing. These visionaries have pushed the boundaries, disrupted the status quo, and transformed the way we approach content and marketing. Check out the full exhibit to be informed and inspired by the insights shared by these trailblazers.