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Content’s Competitive Advantage: Interview with Ann Handley

Do you enjoy hearing how others are leveraging content marketing?  How about experts? Are you interested in learning from their industry knowledge and insights?

Sometimes hearing what an expert has to say about a subject is an excellent opportunity to improve your content marketing strategy.

I sat down (on Skype) with Ann Handley, CCO of MarketingProfs, co-author of Content Rules, and a key speaker at the upcoming Content Marketing World conference.

Ann spoke very persuasively on a variety of topics surrounding content marketing, MarketingProfs, and her new book.

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Content types and contributors

Q. MarketingProfs is one of the leading blogs in the industry. What type of content are you publishing on that platform?

A. We publish a daily newsletter of which the MarketingProfs DailyFix blog is a component. We also have daily how-to articles on our website, weekly webinars, a monthly virtual conference, live events, Take-10 mini-podcasts, and seminars. It’s always nice to hear which of these really resonate with people.

Q. A lot of outside people are writing for MarketingProfs. How do you select contributing writers for your platform? What are you looking for?

A. It’s a combination of things. Sometimes our readers will approach us and say, “I’m a reader of your blog and I’d love to write for you,” and they’ll submit an article.

Other times it’s someone who comments a lot on our articles and blog posts who will stand out. If they care enough to be a regular reader and to comment on our articles, then I think that they probably do have something interesting to say. So we’ll approach our frequent visitors as well.

I also do something called social prospecting where I go to social sites, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Focus or Quora, and I look to see who is interesting and who has a different take on things. Then I’ll approach that person and ask them if they’re interested in writing for us. MarketingProfs is a huge platform, and my hope is to give our contributors the exposure that we’re able to offer.

Finding time to create content

Q. You produce a ton of content yourself whether it’s the book you just published, Content Rules, or the blog articles you write on Huffington Post, Mashable, OPEN Forum, MarketingProfs, Entrepreneur, and many other platforms. How do you find time to fit it all in, and what can businesses learn from this?

A. I think of it in the same way that I advise companies. Content is the cornerstone of your marketing. Maybe it’s easier for someone like me who is a writer and an editor at heart, but any business has to find a way to produce content.

That might mean that you hire someone to do it for you, or a chief content officer to take charge of it or just figure out what platform works for you (e.g. video or a podcast like this one). But it’s imperative that all businesses create their own content.

I personally write a lot during the weekends.

Personal stories and corporate content

Q. How should we use personal stories in content marketing?

A. I’m a big believer in using stories to engage, but I also make the distinction between personal and personable content.

On a personal blog, you can bare your soul and “tell all” like I do on my blog, Annarchy. But with corporations and content marketing, it’s about delivering personable content. It’s about giving your products or services a pulse and talking about the stuff that makes your product real to people so that they can relate to it.

Companies can also tell the stories of their customers.

They can talk about how their product has helped customers to (as we say in the book) run faster, jump higher, or ease their pain. The companies that are embracing that are ultimately the ones that are succeeding in content marketing.

Content’s competitive advantage

Q. In your book, Content Rules, you say that content marketing gives business owners a competitive advantage. Explain what that means.

A. First, it’s important to think of content not as a task or a burden, (which a lot of business owners who are not publishers tend to do) but rather to see it as an opportunity to connect with your customers.

In the book, we tell the story of Marcus Sheridan who is the CEO of River Pools — a swimming pool company in Virginia. Marcus sees himself not just as a swimming pool retailer, but also as a resource for anyone who’s thinking about spending thousands of dollars on an in-ground pool.

He creates content that helps prospects at all stages of the buying cycle. His goal was to grow his email list so as to engage his prospects on a regular basis.

He has achieved that goal and is successfully marketing to the people on his list or getting referrals from them. This approach has made a huge difference for his company, allowing it to expand at a time when people haven’t had much discretionary income to spend on swimming pools

Content marketing success

Q.  A lot of business that are new to content marketing might not know what content marketing success looks like? Can you help them to visualize it so that they know what to look for?

A.  Well first before they do anything, they must ask themselves “Why are we doing this and what is our goal?”

Fundamentally, the way to measure success is to define your goals first. Some goals could be to make more money, to generate business leads, to grow an email list, and so on. If you just start a blog and start posting without measuring anything or creating a path to conversion, then it will probably fail.

But if you can answer the why question, then you’ll be able to see what success looks like down the road.

Article marketing

Q. Nica Mandigma on Facebook asks, “What are your thoughts on article marketing? Is it still relevant considering the recent Google Panda updates?”

A. Even before Google Panda, I was never a fan of  “broadcasting article marketing.”  And I say this as a traditional publisher who has been providing information to audiences for a really long time.

The problem with article marketing is that it’s not targeted to a specific audience and it’s not personal — it’s just articles that are broadcasted to a bunch of B2B marketing publications.

A better approach is to write relevant articles in specific publications like MarketingProfs. A lot of people want to write for MarketingProfs because they see the value in that. These are people who have built a relationship with me or another editor here, and that’s really the key — to be specific about your channel and what’s going to work for you.

Q. Ann, where can people find you online?

A. They can find me on LinkedIn and on Facebook as Ann Handley or on Twitter @marketingprofs.