Joe Lazer

Head Of Content & Communications at A.Team

Joe Lazer On Using Strategy to Drive Success in Content Marketing 

In today's digital age, consumers are bombarded with an unprecedented amount of content on a daily basis. In order to stand out from the rest, it is essential to have a content marketing strategy that is well thought-out and executed. Simply producing content is not enough, are you distributing content that matters?

In this conversation between Joe Lazer, Head Of Content & Communications at A.Team and Prasad Shetty, Sr. Account Executive - North America at Pepper Content, find out how you can use strategy to drive content marketing success.

Here are some excerpts. 

1. Why don't you go ahead and give us a quick introduction about yourself? 

My name is Joe Lazer. I am a writer and a marketer. I lead the marketing function at A.Team as the Head of Communications and Content. Before that I was the head of Marketing at Contently, I authored a book called The Storytelling Edge and for someone who's been writing about and covering the content marketing space for a long time and also doing it in practice, it's really exciting to be here. 

2. If you have to give a couple of lessons that you have in terms of the content lead from where it started to where it is right now in terms of one of the market leaders, what would that be? 

I'd say one thing that we learned along the way is that strategy is really important. Having a clear sense of your goals, your KPIs, and what content you're going to be creating for your audience. That's crucial. I think one thing we saw early on is that we were giving brands very powerful technology to measure the success of their content, and to manage all the stakeholders around their content. We're giving them great talent to be working with to develop that content. But so many of them didn't have a clear sense of what content they should be creating. What's going to resonate with my audience, what does a good story look like? Because that DNA isn't inside of a lot of brands - that editorial DNA. And we ended up spinning up a content strategy division within the company that I led for a couple of years. And it was very successful and helps make our customers much more successful. 

The second learning, I would say, is that creating an easy path to ROI is paramount. That's the biggest thing that most content programs trip up at. What I think is probably the risk to a lot of these programs right now as we enter a time of economic uncertainty, there are going to be cutbacks. Marketing as a cost center, is always hit the most that it's much harder to show the ROI of content than it is to show the ROI of direct response marketing where you see someone click, they came in, they bought this thing that we can return on ad spend. Content is a much more complicated journey. So for us, finding ways to help our customers calculate the return on investment they were seeing from their content was really important. And that spans from helping them with setting up those tracking and analytics within their own CRM or marketing automation system, but also developing tools where we would show them how much SEO traffic they were getting organically from content and what would work for their brand. 

3. What are a couple of things you feel that a company like ours shouldn't do? 

If you're just creating content, you're not thinking about how to distribute it, or how to measure that impact. Are you reaching the type of folks who are going to become your customers down the line? If you're not mapping all that out up front, you risk getting to a point where it's the end of the year, and your CMO or your CEO is like, OK, we spent a million dollars on this content program, what did we get out of it this year? And if you don't have a good answer to that question, it's going to be painful for you. 

4. What are a couple of learnings or insights you have for somebody who's starting new in the content marketing space? 

I think that it starts with understanding your audience super well and trying to create content that feels very authentic and relatable to them. I think the biggest thing, and there's no real hack for that, it requires spending time with them. Like also spending time with your sales team, spending time through your accounts team, and getting to understand your customers and their stories. If you have something like Gong or Core AI, listening to customer calls, that's a lot of what I did my first month on a team. I was like, okay, let me just hear as many conversations with customers as I can just to get an idea of who these folks are that we're selling to right? Or the challenges they're facing. It's a continuous thing. You do that, then you start to internalize who that audience is and it becomes much easier to speak to them and create things that they're going to find interesting, valuable, and relatable. That's the number one thing. And then just, make interesting stuff. 

Don't feel like all of your content has to fit a template. Like you're going to create the same content that ten of your competitors have created because this has a high keyword volume and SEMrush is telling you it's something you can create, but that's not going to help you break through. I recommend starting by finding a way to tell stories, to introduce new ideas that are going to resonate with your audience as a way to break through and start to build something, as opposed to trying to follow some best practice hack that you found on LinkedIn or a Twitter thread. I think it's really important if you think through what channels are most opportune for you. 

Now you have to be much more attuned to emerging channels and different strategies for building an audience because there's so much more competition out there than there was even a decade ago.

5. What do you like to watch and read and listen to? Where do you find yourself spending most of your time-consuming content? What engages you the most? And also in terms of the KPIs for the modern content leaders, what are the two or three important KPIs to keep in mind to pace up with the current digital transformation?  

One of the biggest issues that we face is that attribution with content is hard. We all know that it's hard. I think that in a lot of ways, it's beneficial if you can sell the idea that content is influencing your overall marketing success early on. Much in the same way as a TV commercial or a billboard would. In that, you have to correlate this content you're creating to a broader influx of organic inbound coming into your brand. So the same way, it's like we're going to do a subway ad in the New York market that's on the 6th train going at the Wall Street crowd. We would then look for an influx in inbound interest for a team coming from New York, and banks from the marketers who work there. Same way, if we're creating a bunch of content, going out talking about fintech right now, and we're distributing that audience, we're not going to see that they clicked on an article and they clicked on a house ad in the sidebar of our blog and they signed up. That just doesn't happen most of the time. But if we view over time that we've been creating this fintech content, and while we're seeing more fintech and finance customers come inbound, we can say that our content had a real influence. Setting up internally for your team to start thinking that way about how you attribute success is really important and then quantifying the audience that you're developing. 

The demands of the modern content marketer require you to be both analytical in how you think about ROI but also savvy inside of your organization in getting people to think about the ROI of content in the right way. 

6. What is the one thing that excites you the most about this role? And following up on that is the one aspect that is tiring as a content marketer. 

When my goal isn't to have content drive returns for Contently or a team, it's to grow the business as effectively as possible. But I still really believe in content as the main way of doing that. What I think is most exciting about it is probably what's always been exciting, which is -  can you actually deliver value to people? Direct response marketing is becoming less and less effective as with the death of a cookie, with much more limited data that we can have in terms of targeting as all these platforms get flooded with more and more marketers. So it's never been more important to build equity and value with your audience by giving them things that help them do their jobs better and help them see the world in a new way. And that's always a really exciting challenge to embark upon because you have to deeply understand who your audience is and then try a bunch of different things to understand what resonates with them and helps them. 

And as much as I consider myself a very good content strategist, the truth is that there's a lot of trial and error that goes into it and you have to be humble about what's working and not and iterate quickly, but for me, that journey of building an audience, of experimenting what's going to hit with them or not and of adapting your strategy very quickly, that's the exciting part of the job. And I think that if you are a young content marketer or someone looking to switch into this discipline, that's a part of it that you have to be down for the ride on. 

7. What do you think is the most scalable way to go about looking at strategy? 

I think that everyone's been looking for this magical content strategy tool that's going to tell you exactly what you need to do. But in truth, all the content strategy tools are going to tell you what is working for other people. It doesn't necessarily mean that it will work for you. What's important to have a successful content strategy is that unique voice, perspective, and ideas that you're bringing out from your own company and then a deep understanding of who your audience is and where they're not being served today. And that's where the tools can help. If you don't have a unique perspective, ideas, and data to share, it's not likely going to work well. And that's where the human touch comes in. We have robots that can write half-decent content. Now we have strategy tools that can tell us keywords we should go after and topics we should be writing about. You can match the two together and probably automate a half-decent, content marketing program. But if you want to stand out, you need that human element. 

I think the biggest problem with a lot of companies' content marketing programs is that they don't have anything to say or they're afraid to say what they really would like to put out into the market. And then you just end up with a bunch of bland bullshit that no one wants to read or watch or listen to.

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