Marylou: Hi everyone, it’s Marylou Tyler. This week, I have a special guest – all my guests are special. I know I say that. I really mean it this time, too. With me today is CEO Jessica Mehring, her company is called Horizon Peak Consulting. Jessica just told me about a process, I guess process is not the right word, but she has an offering or service called The Content Lab. Welcome to the podcast, Jessica.
Jessica: Hi, thank you so much for having me. The Content Lab, that’s my new thing. I’m actually calling it a business.
Marylou: Okay, business, like a pocket service business.
Jessica: It’s kind of a separate beast from Horizon Peak Consulting. At Horizon Peak, I write content for IT software and tech companies. It’s one to one services. I’m actually doing the writing for my clients. When I created The Content Lab which is dedicated to training content creators to get better results from content that they’re writing, I realized that the audience was just so completely different. These are people that are creating content for clients of their own or in some cases creating content for their own businesses. I ended up creating a totally separate business for The Content Lab. That’s on its own website. It’s thecontentlab.co, I’m having so much fun with it.
Marylou: You said a word near and dear to my heart and to my listeners’ hearts. I heard the word results. Usually when we think about marketing or content and marketing, it’s not necessarily result driven. Tell us more about that. The reason why I’m really interested in that is because we specialize on top of funnel. The people who are on this phone for the most part are business developers and they are getting not only the inbound leads from the fabulous landing pages that content folks put together but they’re also using lists in order to reach out to people that they don’t know in order to start conversation. Content is becoming, and always has been, but is now finally being recognized as an asset for that. When you overlaid asset with results, I get very interested. Tell us why the word result is in The Content Lab’s mantra?
Jessica: You’re absolutely right. It’s a mantra for me, that word ‘result.’ That’s what makes The Content Lab so different. I’m not teaching writing. These are not writing courses that I’m putting together. These are training programs that teach people how to go so much deeper than just writing content. I actually teach people to take several steps back and figure out what the bigger goal is and what the business context is around the project and to really get to know very deeply, on a very intimate level, the target audience that you’re trying to reach. Without having that understanding before you ever write your first word, your content isn’t going to get the results that you’re after. It just won’t. Writing just to write, blogging just to blog, putting content out there just because that’s what you’re told you were supposed to do, that doesn’t get results today because there’s just too much thinking content out there.
Marylou: Overwhelm I think is a good word.
Jessica: Yes. Content fatigue, content overwhelm. There’s a lot of different phrases for it but the fact is more and more and more content is being produced on a daily basis. You see statistics about that all the time. An increasing number of companies are producing increasing numbers of content assets and you really have to work harder to cut through the noise. I found that the best way to cut through the noise is by creating content that deeply resonates, that deeply engages your target audience, but also drives towards your bigger business goals. The content itself has to be super high quality. Those quicky little 500 word blog posts, frankly, a lot of those are a waste of time. You really have to work a lot harder today. You have to be results oriented.
Marylou: That’s a good point. I think a lot of what we’re focused on now at top of funnel is that targeting, is that segmenting that you mentioned. I think my troops are getting the message because the first three chapters of my new book is all about the SWOT which is your Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Looking at where you fit in the market and where your products or services resonate and also what your internal resources are in terms of servicing clients. Then, we go into the ideal account profiles which are the brick and mortar, just looking at the companies as a whole as to what industries, what verticals, what geo, things like that. And then we look inside the company at the people so the prospect personas. The prospect personas are what you’re saying is driving quick content, is that correct?
Jessica: Yeah, but not the way a lot of companies are doing it. A lot of companies take those personas and those personas are too high level and they create content for these paper personas, but you and I both know that these customers are more than paper personas. These personas are interacting online, they’re asking questions of each other online, they’re participating in groups online. We have to go so much further beyond the persona and really get to know our customer more intimately. Find out those questions that they’re asking so we can answer them.
Marylou: Do you have a method, a system, a process, a framework to go about figuring this out? Because one of the things I like to do if possible is allow for at least 80%, 85% of process, of a system, in order to gather information in this case. Is it more than that? Can you get a good chunk of what you need by working through a framework or steps or method in order to collect the data that you’re looking for?
Jessica: I’m working on putting together a framework for this, it’s not complete yet. I won’t say that my process is random in any way, shape, or form but I don’t have a framework I can point you to yet. That said, what I like to do is find 5 to 10 customers, buyers of the product that represent ideal buyers. Follow them around online for a bit. Google their name, see what they’re doing on Facebook, what are they tweeting about, are they posting questions on Quora? See how they’re interacting online, somewhat stalk them a little bit.
Marylou: For heuristic.
Jessica: To get an idea of again, the questions that they’re asking, how they’re interacting, are they producing any content of their own? Actually, that’s an interesting one. Everybody’s producing content today and that can tell you a lot about a buyer is what they’re putting out there online today. The idea of the Virtual Focus Group I think is really brilliant. That’s just taking 5-10 representatives of your ideal customers and watching how they interact online, follow them around online, google their names, see what they’re doing on Facebook, what are they tweeting about, are they posting questions or answering questions on Quora. Watch their activity online, that’s going to give you a really interesting, somewhat personal viewpoint of these customers that can be very insightful. The second thing, a lot of businesses, they’re just not doing enough of this. Some are doing some, some are not doing it at all, but most are not doing enough of this is surveys, surveying customers and asking customers point blank what do you need, what do you want, what are your challenges? What can we do better? What has been you experience with our company or with our competitors? That can give you great insight too. Both of those scenarios, following people online and surveying people. People are people. They’re going to tell you what you want to hear in a lot of these circumstances, you’re not going to get the cold hard truth in some scenarios. I also recommend adding in a third element of data, looking at your metrics. How are your customers interacting with your website? How are they interacting with your emails? What are they opening? What are they clicking on? What are they filling out? That data combined with what you see of your customer’s interactions online and your survey insights can give you a really 3D view of the target audience that you’re trying to serve.
Marylou: It sounds like there’s a lot of planning but it’s all planning that is vital to the success of all of this.
Jessica: It absolutely is. People so quickly go straight to creating that content, straight to writing those emails. They neglect these steps that really should be taken much earlier which is number one in my book, knowing who you’re writing to, knowing who you’re creating content for; intimately knowing them.
Marylou: Exactly. I think the other thing is that we can take this information and then apply it for a baseline. Once we apply it for a baseline, then it sounds like there’s a full circle you can continually improve and iterate and get better at knowing who these people are once you put these messages out there and start tracking the results and the responses that you’re getting from people in order to be able to see, is this resonating? And if it’s resonating, how fast am I going through the pipeline in my world by having the right conversation at the right time, at the right place in the pipeline based on the analytics that you’ve done in your pre-planning process.
Jessica: Absolutely. You have to keep revisiting those three things because not only does your business change but people change too, your audience changes over time. Especially as technology grows. I always recommend when it comes to content strategy to revisit it at least once a year, if not once a quarter. Go back to your metrics. Do one more round of stalking your customers online, see what they’re doing online today and surveying your customers to refresh your personas and refresh your insights about your customers. Get intimate with them once again where they’re at today.
Marylou: Let’s try this. I really would like you to put this in a story for us and essentially tell us a story of a client of yours and why they came to you, what their major challenge was, and why you as the guide. From there, I want to know which path did they take and why and where they are today. Can we try, since you’re a writer, can we try doing a story like that?
Jessica: I’m a writer, I’m not a speaker, but I can sure try.
Marylou: First of all, think of a client and what was your major challenge. I want you to tell me the challenge they came to you with. Was it the same challenge that they ended up really having? J
essica: Yes, and no.
Marylou: Oh, good. It already sounds intriguing.
Jessica: I had a client very recently, they’re a SAAS company, Software As A Service, and they had a free trial of their app that they were trying to funnel people toward being paid users after signing up for this free trial. They wanted to improve the email sequence that these free trial users received after signing up for that trial. It was an onboarding sequence, small part of a larger funnel. When they came to me, the biggest concern was putting more of their brand personality into these emails which a lot of companies are very concerned with and they should be, your brand perception can really influence sales. I had a long conversation with this client, we actually did a roadmapping session so we could really lay out in detail how this project was going to go. We had a long conversation, I did what I was just talking to you about how I took several steps back and took the time to understand the bigger business context and the ultimate goals that my client had for these emails. It turns out that adding more personality to emails, it was really a secondary goal whereas initially that was what they came to me with as their primary goal. We uncovered that they needed these email to do three things. First, to empower the customer, to use the app themselves, or to reach out for help if they got stuck. This company really wanted to make sure that their customers knew that they were not alone. They always had the company there to support them.
Secondarily, the second thing that these emails needed to accomplish was to keep the customer on the happy path to becoming a paid user. You and I were chit chatting about that happy path before we started our interview but it’s the smooth path from entry to sale with no side tracks. Trying to keep the customer on that happy path to becoming a paid user and completing the actions that have historically lead to the highest numbers of conversions. That was focus number two for these emails.
And then the third and final was to demonstrate the unique personality of the brand. If I hadn’t taken the time to really talk to this client and ask broader questions about their business, where they were in the market, the conversations they were having with the customers, who their customers were on a more intimate level, I could’ve just started writing, okay, I’m just going to add more personality to the emails that they have and they would not have gotten the results that they got which were really outstanding results in the end.
Marylou: This is a big teaching point for my audience. I want to pause here and reiterate how important this is. A lot of times, we start crafting our emails and putting content assets together for our wake up the chill campaigns which is someone may have signed up on a website, on a form, or they may have been a trial and then they disappeared and we’re trying to reactivate them again in some fashion. We always go with what I call the external pain point which is the pain on the surface and what you just described was the importance of going deeper into the internal pain. As you said, they came to you because they wanted a branding awareness and what it really turned out was there were some other internal things going on that resonated, that were more of an emotion based, if you will, which is where we are in our funnel, we are definitely emotion based to start. Then and only then when the prospect is ready to go with the meeting, or will take a phone call for discovery call, whatever it is, people switch to logic at that point to justify the reason to doing that. What you said is, and I want my folks to really listen to, is that it’s more than just what’s on the surface. You’ve got to be able to dig deeper and learn how to ask the questions that will get you deeper.
Jessica: Yes, absolutely. Luckily, this client really was very close to their customers. They knew their customers on an intimate level. That was very important to the success of all of this as well. They’ve done their due diligence, they had really gotten to know their customers very well. That really helped this whole process. But I agree, you have to dig deeper than those surface reasons. Not just the surface reasons for your business, but the surface reasons for your customers as well.
Marylou: You got amazing results, it sounds like. What would’ve happened to them had they not done what you asked of them or that you put together for them, what if they didn’t take that fork in the road towards getting help like this?
Jessica: I tell you, these days you’re not only competing with all of the content online but you’re also competing for inbox space. The end results if they just kept going the way they were going was probably a lot more deleted emails. Because we went this direction, because we prioritized the goals the way I just described, the results were so outstanding. In the original sequence, the open rates used to drop off really steeply from email one to email eight, and we go from 30% to 6%. But after we implemented the new sequence, the open rates stayed high through the entire sequence.
Marylou: That speaks volumes.
Jessica: That does speak volumes right there. The drop off was eliminated completely, and the click through rate tripled.
Marylou: Now, again, I‘m going to pause you there because click rates through for us, especially for those of you who are doing account based selling or working on your core accounts, having click through rates that are high in your sequence allows you to pull that record out and put it into your calling cue because they are showing enough engagement by clicking through to content and the content, if it’s smart, is actually squirrel feeding them into beefier content so you can manage their levels of awareness and make some assumptions based on the content consumed as to where they are in their head in terms of wanting to start a conversation with you.
What Jessica said about open rates remaining high and click through rates remaining or going higher and higher, those two things are going to reduce the lag in our pipeline and allow us to have more meaningful first conversations sooner.
Jessica: Absolutely. You hit on something there which is the headspace of your customers. You can tell a lot about the headspace based on their activity, what they’re opening, what they’re clicking on. You can also tell where their hearts are too. I think sometimes we leave the emotional elements out of this. This is something that I made sure to include with this client project, the heart. Making sure that we were following along in the customer’s emotional journey through this as well.
Marylou: Which is really important for us too because top of funnel, we’re still working in those levels of awareness where it’s more emotion based than it is logical.
Jessica: Absolutely. You noticed the first word I used for goal number one was empower. We wanted to empower the customers to use the app or to reach out for help. That was the key to making the customer feel confident with this app that on the outside might look a little complex but we know that once they get in there and start using it, it’s so easy to use and that’s one of the reasons people stick with it.
Marylou: I appreciate all that you’ve shared with us. A lot of food for thought here in this call. Jessica, how can people get a hold of you if they want to learn more or engage your Content Lab folks in assisting them with formatting and actually creating these sequences? We have sequences too in our funnel and the content assets are extremely important because they’re not the typical assets that marketing produces. I like to say that we flip things sideways and take out the persuasive elements and then shrink down the content so that it’s in manageable bite size chunks. That’s pretty much what we need to do. What do you recommend people do to learn more about you and what you’re doing over at Content Lab?
Jessica: Sure. To learn more about my content writing services, you can find me at horizonpeakconsuting.com. If you’d like to get training on how to do this yourself, how to get better results from the content that you’re creating, you can certainly follow me over at thecontentlab.co.
Marylou: Not to put you on the spot, you said you do training and you’re working on getting a system in place, when do you think you’re going to have this systematized so that people can start the journey and work through? My folks don’t think that they’re writers even though all of you are.
Jessica: You all have writing skills, it’s just a matter of systematically implementing them to get better results.
Marylou: When is The Content Lab, what’s your guess as far as your goals are for this year in getting a systematized offering out?
Jessica: I’ve got an offering out right now for content writers who want to specialize in writing for technology audiences. I’m also working on a similar program for broader audiences, not just tech. The framework that I told you about is probably going to be a second half activity for me where I’m creating more resources for folks that are not calling themselves copywriters or content writers.
Marylou: Which is my troops. A lot of times, sales folks are on their own in writing their emails and sometimes even getting the content assets attached or click throughs, they may be responsible for that. I also have folks who are sales reps who do everything. They open doors, they close business, and they service accounts. They have a lot more at stake in terms of making sure that the lifetime value of their clients is solid. Content does play a big part in that, like you said, to keep them empowered, to keep them engaged, to keep them excited about the product or service that they’re using.
Thank you so much for your time today. I think we learned quite a bit. My mind is spinning here trying to figure out this whole concept of systematizing the content. For so long, we have been trained that this is more of a right brain, for the lack of a better term, activity, and creative, but creative with results is awesome. I love the way you describe what you’re doing right now.
Jessica: It’s equally left brain, right brain work.
Marylou: That’s awesome. Thanks again. Have a great afternoon, I appreciate your time.
Jessica: You too, thank you so much. This was a great conversation.