As a former Army commander, the challenges that Chad Pollitt faces as a marketer fail to faze him.
Pollitt has been in the marketing game since 2002 and helped numerous companies craft innovative web marketing strategies that accompanied the Internet’s ascendance. After returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, however, Pollitt had to adapt to a new digital marketing arena.
He did so quickly. Since joining Slingshot SEO in 2012, Pollitt has overseen the company’s rebranding twice. In doing so, Pollitt has become the company’s VP of audience and the co-founder for what is now Relevance, “a digital magazine, agency and events company dedicated to content strategy, promotion and marketing.”
To learn more about where Pollitt sees the next great movement in content, we sat down with this Top 20 CMO Influencer to ask a few questions.
To listen to the audio recording of our interview with Chad, click below:
In college, I had a professor I considered a mentor. He said, “If you want a business career, you have to get into sales. That’s how everybody becomes a CEO: They start in sales.” So that’s what I did.
Prior to going to Iraq with the Army — I spent all of 2005 there — I did side consulting projects because, in my full-time job, I met a lot of small business owners who struggled with things like business plans. I would write up a plan and hand it off to people I knew in the space to get those business owners started. I did almost everything, minus major design and programming.
That’s when I realized that the marketing work I was doing for myself to get my own leads was far more valuable than actually going out and closing the deals, so I made a move to a company called Kuno Creative. I helped its clients and did all the internal marketing. I’m proud to say that in 2012, based on the work that we did as a team, Kuno Creative was named MarketingSherpa’s Reader’s Choice for the Best Inbound Marketing Blog. We actually beat out HubSpot that year, which I’m proud to say because that’s not easy to do.
"We actually beat out HubSpot that year, which I’m proud to say because that’s not easy to do."
Yeah, we won, unless the MarketingSherpa voters rigged it. (By the way, I don’t think they did.) That was really cool. Then, in 2012, a company called Slingshot SEO out of Indianapolis heavily recruited me.
Part of the reason it brought me on was to figure out what the company’s next journey looked like because, as we all know, SEO has completely changed from what it used to be. The company needed a change agent within the company, so it hired me on as VP of marketing; I took that over and rebranded the company as DigitalRelevance. Then, I launched a media wing of the company called Relevance. Earlier this year, we merged the two brands, creating one entity.
It’s the same struggle they’ve had for the last five years. First of all, content marketing adoption, while pretty robust today, is still growing. The struggle really is — and this is a pet peeve of mine — that the idea of “publish and pray” or “publish, broadcast, and pray” that a lot of marketers are following doesn’t work. What I mean by that is they’re spending all their time, energy, and effort producing this wonderful content asset or article or video. They throw it up on their website, tweet it, put it on Facebook, Google+, and maybe LinkedIn, and then sit back and hope something happens.
That’s where the praying comes in. There’s too much competition for an audience today, in most industries, to sit back and pray about anything in marketing. I actually see brands that don’t even know that they’re supposed to do anything other than that.
"There’s too much competition for an audience today, in most industries, to sit back and pray about anything in marketing."
If you’re a beekeeper who opens a YouTube channel and starts writing all kinds of cool blog posts for beekeepers, I’ll bet you build it and see them come — there’s not a lot of competition. If you’re in sales or marketing and you want to use content to build your brand, good luck with that because you’re competing against thousands and thousands of brands for audience attention. It’s going to be tough to do.
There are three ways to promote content. You have earned media, paid media, and owned media. I have found that earned media is the best bang for my buck. I get the best return for my time, energy, effort, and investment when it comes to earning media. For example, I wrote an e-book back in 2012. Inc. picked it up, and somebody wrote an article. In less than two weeks, I had more than 800 downloads of that e-book. Those are all incremental leads for us to work and nurture through our funnel. That was huge, and it didn’t cost me a dime, other than my time. Earned media can be very powerful, especially while influencer marketing, as we all know, has blown up on the earned side. That’s very powerful as well.
"In less than two weeks, I had more than 800 downloads of that e-book. Those are all incremental leads for us to work and nurture through our funnel."
You’ve got your paid side. There are your traditional digital channels, like display advertising, and then you’ve got your paid media 2.0 — the 2.0 digital channels — like native advertising and sponsored content. Some people would call them advertorials. I think there’s actually a difference between what people call advertorials and sponsored content. Advertorials reside further down in the funnel alongside your more sales-driven content. True sponsored content — editorial content or an article — will be at the top of the funnel and be more news-like.
I believe it was David Ogilvy who said, “The less an advertisement looks like an advertisement and the more it looks like an editorial, the more readers stop, look, and read.” The idea of native advertising and sponsored content taps into that, so it doesn’t look like display advertising or pay-per-click. It looks like it’s supposed to be there. Those are some of the most powerful channels for content marketers to use on the paid side.
The third is the owned side: your content broadcasting channels. If you’re a brand like HubSpot, these channels are great because HubSpot can broadcast its content with tweets, Facebook posts, and other owned channels or tap into its email list. A company like HubSpot has millions and millions of people in its email database, and the brand can monetize that for years to come. The problem is that most companies don’t have rabid fans on social media, and they don’t have millions, let alone thousands, of people in their email databases to tap into, monetize, and harvest for sales.
For those people, owned media alone is not going to justify the expense of content marketing. It just won’t. Remember, the “build it, and they will come” philosophy is dead in most industries, so you have to converge the three media channels into one strategy. Converging those three channels into one all-encompassing strategy is where you’re going to incrementally grow your audience over time, allowing you to tap into it, nurture it, and harvest business from it.
"Remember, the 'build it, and they will come' philosophy is dead in most industries, so you have to converge the three media channels into one strategy."
First off, I have to say that for B2B marketers out there, if you don’t understand your funnel — from the tip-top all the way to the bottom — I think you should be doing something else. That said, there are some old-school marketing folks who have been in the business for a while who still don’t quite get it, but they need to learn it. If you have a mastery of your funnel — if you understand it, as well as the conversion rates at each phase of the funnel moving down — it’s a no-brainer to create that top-of-the-funnel content. It really is.
That being said, let’s talk about the funnel. Why do we create content? There are two reasons we create content. Sure, someone can say, “We create content because we want to drive sales.” OK, I got it, but you just jumped from the very top of your funnel all the way to the bottom of it. You don’t need to do that. There are steps. We create content at the top of the funnel to build an audience. That’s the primary goal. Then, there’s a secondary goal: creating content at the top of the funnel to earn media. We create owned media to earn media. We want that free attention. At the very top, you have two goals: You want to build an audience, and you want to earn media.
How do you build an audience and earn media with content? You don’t do it by selling anything; you do it by positioning yourself as a subject matter expert. Businesses are in the business of solving people’s problems. That’s what they do. It makes sense that a business is going to want to create problem-solving content and come at it in a way that doesn’t just solve the problem but solves it as quickly and as logically as possible. Ideally, the problems you’re solving as a business will differentiate you from your content competitors as well. If you can become that brand that consistently solves people’s problems over time, when they have a deeper problem that they need solved, that’s when they’re going to go deeper into your sales funnel. Make sense?
"How do you build an audience and earn media with content? You don’t do it by selling anything; you do it by positioning yourself as a subject matter expert."
It’s funny you’re asking that question because I’ll be in Boston next month to present at INBOUND 2015. I’ll be in Cleveland for Content Marketing World as well. This is actually what the presentation’s all about, so I’m going to go into much further detail than what can be said in this interview. We knew that brands were struggling with content promotion — not just struggling to do it but struggling to even know that they should do it on the earned and paid side. Knowing that, we wanted to create a digital magazine that focused on the problems associated with not having content promotion strategies.
Out of all the things that we did, the niche that we chose is what led to Relevance’s success as a media outlet: content promotion. If we were to launch a general digital marketing magazine online, we would be competing with every agency’s blog and every other digital media outlet that talked about marketing. The number of other websites we’d compete against would be in the thousands, probably tens of thousands. We don't want to compete with all those people, so we chose that niche and focused on it.
"If we were to launch a general digital marketing magazine online, we would be competing with every agency’s blog and every other digital media outlet that talked about marketing."
That being said, we knew that to be successful, we also had to be good at content promotion. Not only did we have to be good at it, but we also needed to implement and execute these ideas, strategies, and tactics in order to cover them in the digital magazine itself. So we converged earned, paid, and owned media. We soon realized that we needed to spend more time doing content promotion. In fact, we actually spent more time on content promotion than we did on content production. We spent anywhere between 50 and 75 percent of our time, energy, effort, and budget promoting the content, not creating it. That was critical.
My advice is simple. I’m going to the B2B market because that’s the world I live in. I would give a different answer in the B2C space. The fact is that, in business, money talks and bullshit walks. Money talks, so when you can boil it down to dollars and cents and take it up the chain, that’s when people take notice. By understanding your funnel, you need to really understand everything: the top of the funnel, the middle, inside sales, MQLs, and SQL opportunities.
When you map your funnel and look at your conversion rates from the very top all the way down to closed won, assign a dollar value, do the math, and work your way up, you can easily see that if you increase your website traffic at the top of the funnel by X, it should produce Y down at the bottom. It’s a cash argument. You take that up the chain and say, “Listen, if you give me the resources to do this, I have projected that I can deliver this.”
For marketers out there, here’s the thing: It’s critical to understand what the rates of conversion are, from an MQL to a SQL to an opportunity to close, once it leaves your funnel and goes into inside sales as an MQL. You have to understand it well because you, as a marketer, have to hold them accountable — and vice versa. If conversion rates at any stage of the funnel are below 10 percent, you should be beating your fist on the table, saying, “We need to encourage these conversion rates. Something’s wrong here.”
"If conversion rates at any stage of the funnel are below 10 percent, you should be beating your fist on the table, saying, 'We need to encourage these conversion rates. Something’s wrong here.'"
That’s how you do it — money talks, and bullshit walks. You have to understand your funnel. You have to reverse engineer it and understand what value each stage is delivering to your company. By doing that, you can walk in and say, “Hey, it costs us $32 for a top-of-the-funnel lead, which if you work it all the way down, means we need to invest a total of $4,000 for new business. You give me $400,000, and I can deliver this much new business.” Everybody then has to be on board, including sales and marketing.
Google, the giant gorilla in the room, believe it or not, is creating a native network that will compete against companies like Taboola, Adblade, and others. This network with premium publishers and bloggers will also allow people like you and me to go into the back end, write an article, and choose distribution through blogs or premium digital magazines like TechCrunch.
In fact, we could choose a couple of blogs, place a bid on what we’d pay them to publish our article, and hit the button. In a turnkey way, somebody sitting over there at the blogs or the digital magazines will receive a notification that says, “So-and-so would like approval to publish this on your website.” If the editor accepts it, then they’ll get paid through Google. That’s going to change a lot of what content marketers are doing now for promotion.
In fact, let me go even further. Generally speaking, the gatekeepers for getting your content seen are social media and search engines. They’ve been the gatekeepers for a long time. A couple of things are happening: One is that social media outlets are cranking down their branded visibility. As a brand, if you publish something on Facebook, you have a 2 percent chance of somebody even seeing it in his feed if he likes your page. Twitter came out a year ago and said it’s doing the same thing. The reason is simple: If you can’t get visibility organically, then you have to pay to play. It’s a revenue model that works, and trust me, Twitter will not be the last social channel to do this. They’re all going to do it after reaching a certain threshold of brands and users.
The second shift is occurring with search engines. As Mark Schaefer pointed out in his book “The Content Code,” by 2020, we’re going to have 500 percent more information on the Internet. What does that mean? We’re going to have 500 percent more content, much of it powered by brands. If you have 500 competitors out there, all creating content and solving people’s problems in and around your industry, you can’t rely on search engines because there’s too much competition. Only the top 10 will make the list on any given search phrase. I’m not recommending giving up on search. I’m saying that your likelihood of being highly successful in search is going to decline because there’s going to be much more competition.
Today, there’s only one other place on the Internet that commands a larger audience than search and social. That’s the combined audiences of all the media outlets and blogs out there. The company that figures out how to scale access between brands and all of those media outlets — and it could be Google — is going to be the next powerhouse. That brand will be the gatekeeper. It will be the place that all brands go to get visibility for their content at scale. That’s why I’m so excited about what Google’s launching, as well as the future of native advertising.
Yeah, there are a couple of thought leaders in our space that I’ve been talking with about doing some type of collaborative project. We don’t have anything set in concrete yet, but we have a general direction for where we think we’re going. The goal is to launch something for the end of the fourth quarter, some type of collaborative project with two or three really big industry names. Hopefully, we’ll get some buzz going into the Christmas break and coming into the new year. I was also invited by a very big name in our business to work on an online collegiate course for people who want to earn a credential in digital marketing. I’m looking at kicking that off in perhaps December or January.
That story’s been the same since I tried to get a credential. The Army owed me a bunch of money for education because I went to Iraq, so I used that money to get a certificate at the University of San Francisco. It was a six-month program, and it was the best thing I’d ever done in my career.
Taylor Oster is a marketer and designer with a passion for using helpful, educational, high-quality content to achieve tangible business results. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.