In this episode I speak with Joe Lazauskas from Contently. We discuss how Contently has grown into a content marketing powerhouse through storytelling. Joe’s passion for storytelling is clear. In this episode Joe talks us through how telling stories has helped Contently stand out and connect with their audience. Joe also explains a range of strategies Contently used to get their message out there and grow their email list to 100,000 people.

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Things we discussed in this episode that you should check out:

Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow have written anew book called “The Storytelling Edge”. You should definitely check the book out here: https://www.thestorytellingedge.com

Last 5 questions:

What’s your best piece of marketing advice?
Focus on your audience. I’ve probably said that so far but really obsess with what are the challenges, what are the interest of the audience you’re trying to serve, especially in a B2B setting, how can you make them better at their job, how can you make them look really freaking good to their boss and their colleagues. If you can do that for people, if you can make them feel smarter, my co-author Shane Snow has a great post about this on Linked In right now. If you can make people feel smarter and better at their jobs, they’re going to love you forever.

Can you recommend a book to our listeners?
The Storytelling Edge
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jesse Klein

What software tool couldn’t you live without?
Contently
Buzz Sumo
SimilarWeb

What’s your favourite example of a marketing campaign?
GE Reports

Which other podcasts do you listen to?
Pod Save America
Unthinkable – Jay Acunzo

Transcript

Matt Byrom:
Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of the marketing strategies podcast. Today I’m talking with Joe Lazauskas, content leads, editor in chief, and head of content strategy. He’s also co-author of a new book called the story telling edge and is a regular speaker at prominent marketing events. So hey Joe, thanks for joining me today.

Joe Lazauskas:
Thanks for having me on.

Matt Byrom:
Yeah, you’re welcome, it’s great to have you a part of this podcast, the inaugural podcast as it was.

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah no it’s awesome, when I was a kid, I was like four years old I was eating at a Bennigan’s with my mom, it’s like kind of a chain barbecue type joint in New Jersey, and I looked up at her one day and I just said, “Mom, one day I’m going to be on the marketing influencer and strategy podcast” and she was shocked at how precocious I was. Here I am today, mom we’re living out that dream, it’s a big day, let’s get to it.

Matt Byrom:
Exactly, this is what it’s all been leading to. So yeah a lot of people know Contently and who you are and what you do, but it would be great if you could start us off by giving a run down of what you do and how you work, what problems you solve for your customers and your own business.

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah, so I’m our head of content strategy. Basically my job is to help our customers figure out what content they should be creating, what are the stories that are going to help them break through the noise and actually build meaningful relationships with the customers that they care about and how can they best deliver those stories to their audience in places where they live and at the appropriate time in their customer journey. I started out here at Contently as our editor in chief running our in house editorial team, building our own audience from a few thousand people to several hundred thousand, launching our award winning print magazine, and then about a year and a half ago I was complaining enough about how we approached content strategy on the client side that they said alright, you take it over, see if you can figure it out and I think we have. We take a very data driven approach to content strategy at Contently, so what I really love to do is use data to find the most opportune creative boxes for our customers to play in, and use that to spark some really great story ideas and content series and everything else that might help our customers build those relationships that matter to them.

Matt Byrom:
That’s really interesting, you talk about data, what sort of data do you source and understand for your customers to help them understand what type of content to create?

Joe Lazauskas:
The cool thing about working at a company like Contently is that we’re not just an agency, we’re a technology company, so that gives a couple key advantages. One is that within our platform, we have a lot of proprietary tools that our customers use one to orchestrate their entire content marketing program, so company like Chase will have hundreds of users on Contently and everything runs through there, so we get a lot of analytics from across our customer base both on the efficiency and structure of how they’re creating content, and also how their content is performing. We have a whole analytic suite that our clients use, so that gives us a lot of first party data that we’re able to leverage in seeing what’s most effective. Then we use a slue of third party search and social analytic tools that we use in concert to identify different topic base and audience based white spaces, that different brands can play in.

So how I think about it is, basically what your audience is really interested in, the content formats, they’re most likely to consume and the topics they read and share about the most is one general box that you can play in. Then within that you can look at all of your different competitors, and where they have the high share of voice within different subtopics and across different formats. You basically lay that out on a grid, you find all these smaller creative boxes that you can play in. Say short form animated videos about block chain is something that in general, all audiences are really interested in, intensely share a lot but not a lot of competitors are doing it. So maybe that’s something that we play off, we think how can we do that in our own unique way in our own unique voice.

That’s the kind of simplistic example but we try and apply that kind of science to our creativity across all of our customers and that’s a lot of what the book I wrote with James Snow our co-founder is about, is combining that art and science of storytelling the art and science of content strategy to actually create content that isn’t mediocre, copycat, me too content which in my opinion is the biggest thing plaguing content marketing right now. A lot of people are creating content, very few people are creating really good content. We believe very much in using a data driven approach and the timeless art of storytelling to create the kind of stories that are going to break through.

Matt Byrom:
That’s awesome and I guess you mentioned the storytelling, that’s a big part of what Contently is about. I know Contently started around the time where content marketing was becoming particularly popular and it was a bit of a buzz word at the time, and do you think you guys have grown and have achieved the growth that you have because you’ve focused more on storytelling as opposed to content as a general topic?

Joe Lazauskas:
So I really attribute all of our growth in a lot of ways to storytelling. I have my personal background with Contently, I was running a new site called the Faster Times and covering tech a lot of New York around 2011 when I was covering Tech stars, the tech incubator here in New York and I saw Contently present, saw Contently written about and the first thing I noticed was Contently’s story. It was the story of this Columbia Jay school grad, Shane Snow, who had graduated into the recession, who had seen all these really talented journalists around him struggling to get work, struggling to be able to set up any sort of website or connections to get freelance work. His best friend from growing up in Idaho, Joe Coleman, who’d been a serial entrepreneur, had a successful startup out in Vegas who was struggling to find writers to write for his brand’s blog. It was a huge pain in the ass effort, and a technologist Dave Goldberg who had quit law school but really wanted to build something cool.

They came together and they said hey, what if we create a platform that would connect freelance creatives with brands who in this new age of social media and new age where the wall between them and consumers had been broken down, they needed writers to actually create the type of stories that would actually get people’s attention. That was the genesis of Contently. As a journalist I thought, that’s pretty cool and then I had started, I had shifted away more from the editorial side to the business side of my site in launching our brand and content studio, so I came to Contently and I said hey if you guys need any help with this, would love to get involved.

Started doing some freelance work for them and eventually came on as editor in chief, and my mandate there when we were less than 10 people was build as big of an audience as possible, create stories every day, I was writing two or three stories a day, making videos, everything I could to educate the market on what content marketing was, how we thought about it, where we thought this industry was going, and that was honestly the biggest growth driver for us is that people knew about Contently and thought of Contently as this bigger thing because we had such a big audience because we told such good stories and were seen as leaders in the industry and that’s helped propel a lot of our growth from a brand perspective from a lead gen perspective, over the years. We very much dog food it, we believe in the power of storytelling and it’s how we’ve grown our own organization.

Matt Byrom:
Did you feel at the time that it was your role, or your position at the time of starting that you were actually had to educate and help pass knowledge onto the market about what content marketing was and not just that but how to tell stories and how to do content marketing really, really well.

Joe Lazauskas:
So think back to 2012, 2013, content marketing was emerging as a buzzword but if you look at that classic chart of search for the term content marketing that is in most every content marketing presentation, it really only started to spike around 2012. So there’s still a lot to educate in the market, and people knew what it was but not how to do it well. We wanted to highlight brands who were doing it well as much as possible, we wanted to really share our own journey, what was working for us, if we found a new strategy be it paid Facebook distribution, drive email signups, a certain webinar, email tactic we wanted to write about that and share it. We wanted to talk to as many of the smartest people as possible and above all we wanted to be fully focused on our audience. I had no, you need to plug the product, we need to plug software in this post mandate when starting the content strategist. It was hey let’s educate the market, cover this like you would any journalistic outlet, try and give the readers exactly what they want, listen to your reader feedback and really track and analyze from a data perspective what stories they’re enjoying the most and optimize off of that.

Matt Byrom:
Did you guys have the software at that time or were you just putting content out into the market?

Joe Lazauskas:
No we had the software at the time, that’s what Contently’s business model was, certainly the platform has gotten a lot more robust over the years, to now it’s basically a giant brand orchestration platform in a lot of ways with content at the core. But we use the platform to run our own content program, that’s where I lived was in our software, because there’s things that are like really in depth analytics, and editorial calendar, pitch tools, I worked with our freelance network. The platform was pretty integral to that, and that’s ultimately what we were selling but really the dream, the reason people came to Contently is because they knew that the needed to create better content, they want to build a content program and they saw us as the experts who could help them get there.

Matt Byrom:
And if we fast forward to today then, so who are Contently’s customers? You focused on the enterprise market, you typically bigger businesses?

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah, we’re absolutely focused on the enterprise market, although fast growth, mid market as well. The reason is that what our platform is meant to solve is the challenges that larger organizations have around content. They need a platform that can give everyone access and visibility into content, they need work flows that can go through all of the approval steps and by both brand managers, and content marketing managers and legal and compliance. If you’re trying to run an enterprise content marketing operation off of email and spreadsheets, you’re going to waste a lot of time, it gets really confusing, it’s very hard to get out of your own way, so that’s the market that we’re focusing on in London, San Francisco, St. Paul and growing pretty quickly. As someone who’s been there from the beginning it’s been pretty fun to see.

Matt Byrom:
That’s awesome. If you’re working with customers on a bigger scale, bigger business cross borders internationally, how does your revenue model work, is it a recurring revenue or one off piece of content or a mixture of both?

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah, so we’re a SaaS company so it’s recurring revenue. The other model is that we take a 15% cut from every transaction that goes through our network, so we have over 100,000 freelance creatives. Throughout the globe we use AI to match freelancers with the brands who are our clients, and then our clients create tons of content through our platform. For every transaction we very transparently take a 15% cut. We also have manage services, most all of our clients over 90% use a Contently managing editor who is basically the day to day editorial juggler of their content marketing operation and ensures that all the content they get from freelancers is on point and on strategy and also takes a very data driven approach to helping our clients optimize their program. My team does a lot of larger scale, up front content strategy work for our clients. We also do pay distribution services, so it’s a mixture of services, content, and SaaS. Obviously as a tech company SaaS is our bread and butter. But we want to do everything we can to make our clients successful.

Matt Byrom:
Their success is your success really at the end of the day so you’re aligned with them.

Joe Lazauskas:
Yup, you got it. That’s, I probably should have said that, that was a good line.

Matt Byrom:
So tell me about Contently’s growth as a business, what’s your growth story, you said at the start you were putting a lot of content on the market, educating the market. When did it really come together that you engineered a growth strategy for Contently and when is it that you had your first real wins through your marketing?

Joe Lazauskas:
I would say that 2014 is the year things took off. We raised our series A in December 2013, maybe January 2014 and so that gave us a little bit of infusion of about 9 million capital. We grew really quickly that year, that’s the year that I would say content marketing super took off in the market which helped. We saw just our audience grow a ton that year. I took over at the tail end of 2013 running our blog full time and coming on as editor in chief. I’d been doing some freelance work before that. We saw our own audience grow from about 8,000 folks to almost 200,000, our email list skyrocket. In turn our leads grow 6 or 7 x very very quickly. A lot of inbound interest, a lot of our legion programs were working quite well, webinars, eBooks, tried and true methods but they were working for us.

We saw a huge spike in revenue that year. That’s been pretty consistent over the last few years, we’ve been consistent on the Ink list and the Crain’s list and the Lloyd’s Fast 500 list and all those fancy lists you want to get on as a startup. But it was that point where we could really invest in day to day great content that we were able to grow, which is a good story for us because that’s what we’re selling is this dream that great content can be a huge growth driver for your business.

Matt Byrom:
What did you guys struggle with as you grew, how did you find the channels that really worked for you as a business, because I know content is like the core for you guys, that’s the bread and butter, that’s what you guys are really good at. But obviously you’ve got to promote that content and you’ve got to get it in front of your audience, you’ve got to make sure that content resonates so how did you really find your channels is what I was trying to say?

Joe Lazauskas:
That’s a great question. I think that [inaudible 17:38] wasn’t an issue which I’ve probably hammered away so far, but targeting was, so figuring out especially as a small company how to increase the quality of the leads that we were getting. Especially when you don’t have a giant SDR team, SDR teams are expensive to qualify leads, so if an ebook is bringing in 10,000 leads but you don’t have a great qualification process there, you can be really inefficient in the time that you’re reaching out to the people that really matter, so that was a big learning for us is we have to get better at lead scoring. We have to get a little bit more targeted in our content. I think over the years we’ve intentionally sacrificed audience size for audience quality by becoming more targeted on the enterprise marketer than really trying to educate and appeal to as many people as possible within the marketing industry. That was a learning for us, because we saw a lack of efficiency in our marketing program as the side effect as some of the success we were having and just generating a ton of interest.

Then I think also thinking about how to create content that would help our customers as much as possible, so that’s more that bottom fall content that we weren’t as locked in as first by getting our champions within organizations who were trying to buy Contently, the case studies, the compelling story driven sales decks that would help them sell Contently to their boss or their colleagues. That’s at least to me, coming from a journalism background, felt like the less fun stuff to work on. But over the years, I’ve actually found that the challenge of telling a really good story in those mid and bottom funnel assets is interesting to me. It can be a lot of fun. A lot of times we think of those sort of things as they’re dry, they’re boring, they’re supposed to feel academic. I really liked, and we talk about it in the book a lot, is how to tell really compelling stories about your product, about your brand, that doesn’t just make it something that in every presentation in sales emails people glaze over.

Matt Byrom:
Absolutely, I’ve got a stat here from the book that says 78% of chief marketing officers at big companies think content is the future of their job, and 2/3 of brand marketers think that content is better than most types of advertising. Obviously this is helped the growth of Contently. One of the things I was then going to ask, is around the, so I’d like to dissect a little bit, you say about an ebook you get 10,000 leads for example. How would you as a business promote that ebook to generate those 10,000 leads and then what does your funnel look like following those 10,000 leads, downloading. How would you actually go ahead and lead score and dissect the ones to focus on, the ones to contact, the ones to nurture further. I guess that’s a big question but if you could dissect a little bit about how that would work for Contently and how you do it as best practice that would be awesome to hear.

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah, so I’m a big believer in developing an audience as much as possible. I think what we saw this past week with how Facebook shifted their algorithm in a way that’s kind of screwed over both publishers and brands really any page to decrease their reach, it’s very dangerous to build an audience on someone else’s land. Everything that I do from an audience perspective, I’m trying to drive return relationships. So drive email signups in particular, so that we have a direct line to those customers. For us, we have hundreds of thousands of subscribers for our newsletter, it’s super popular in the industry. That’s a huge avenue for promoting any piece of lead generation content we have, because through a simple topical article we’re just going to ask for someone enter your email address, sign up for the best newsletter in content marketing, when we then promote an ebook to them we are asking for more information that’s going to help us qualify that prospect. So what company size you’re in, what’s your title and position, what industry are you in, questions of that nature which allow us to say okay this is someone who’s a VP of marketing at a fortune 500 company. We are probably going to want to reach out to them, so those are the lead qualification criteria that we use.

In terms of further promoting those books, we found that Facebook advertising, Linked In advertising has been really effective for us in the past just because the depth of targeting that you have there. Co-promotion with really like minded brands, like HubSpot we’ve done a bunch with, can be really effective if we’re co-promoting with their enterprise list, they’re co-promoting with our list of enterprise clients, we’re very complimentary companies and that works very well.

Matt Byrom:
What do you actually go ahead and start a content piece from scratch with them, knock around a few ideas, see what works between yourselves and actually co-create a piece of content or would one of you go to each other and say we’ve got this piece of content would you like to promote it and do the promotion together? How would you normally go ahead about that?

Joe Lazauskas:
We’d create something original that’s going to resonate with both of our audiences. Generally the easiest way to do it is, okay here’s the overall subject we want to talk about, here’s an angle we can talk about it from, here’s an angle you can talk about it from, usually we want this high end to some degree original research that we’ve done as a company, so there’s a value add to it. When possible bring in a thought leader, a client, someone who’s absolutely killing it. One of the most popular webinars we did is with Tomas Kellener, G Reports because everyone loves what G does, G Reports is this awesome blog that reports in the work going on inside, G goes viral on Reddit regularly, so bringing in Tomas that was something that really appeals to your audience. So we’d figure out what is really the best story that we can tell overall, the best way to break it down between the two of us and then create it from scratch.

Matt Byrom:
That’s awesome, yeah it makes sense then you’ve got a piece that actually resonates with both audiences in the best possible way. Just to step back a point, you mentioned about promoting on Facebook. Would you guys actually promote the ebook or the piece of content direct or do you feed somebody in through an article or a feeder piece, an easier piece to get through before actually reaching the high value piece of the ebook or you just go straight and direct?

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah that’s a great question. We primarily, we use Facebook more for to get driving people onto our email list. That was a decent growth strategy for us. One of the things I realized especially around 2014, cause I didn’t have a big budget, but if I [inaudible 25:29] of it each month to promoting our top and final stories that could get a really low CPC on Facebook, like one cent or two cents or five cents, but also had a very high conversion rate to our email list so we would use [sue-ah-me 25:48] as an easy email pop up and AD test a bunch of different CTA’s. That was a really good owned audience strategy and we saw that people who then got onto our newsletter were very likely to become Contently customers, even if it’s a year, two years, three years, keep feeding people valuable content. When they’re in a position where they need enterprise solution like Contently, they’ll come calling and that’s something that we’ve always had faith in, has worked out for us. So we found it was more effective for promoting top of the line articles and driving them in. There’s some eBooks that did work really well because they had compelling headlines, they use a lot of original art, either original photography or illustration. But generally eBooks were best either with partnerships or with a direct promotion to people we’ve already nurtured with our newsletter.

Matt Byrom:
Yeah that makes sense. I guess you guys measuring the cost of lead or cost of new sign up acquisition really across these different channels?

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah we are and another interesting content approach that might be worth talking about is the fact that we have a print magazine. It’s something we’ve done the last five years and from a cost per lead or cost per acquisition model has been really effective for us for direct mail. So we have this big 160 page glossy that we slave over but is super fun to create, that our prospects send one on one to our VIP lists of prospects and clients with a personalized note from either the account manager or the sales person. It’s gotten us in front of everyone from VP’s at large, finance companies, to even Evan Spiegel picked it up one time and wanted a meeting with us. That was one of the cooler moments.

Matt Byrom:
That’s awesome. So what’s your strategy there, you’ll send a print magazine that’s personalized with … do you want to run us through that?

Joe Lazauskas:
We use basically a direct mail service. They basically ship out from that center, personalized note from the sales person plus a magazine and it goes to prospects, clients. There’s something about a physical asset that stands out to people, especially when it’s really well crafted. It’s part of the reason why as a company we’re excited about the book coming out, because that’s another really good piece of critical Adderall. But when you send that to someone, it’s something they can hold in their hands, it’s a physical embodiment of the quality of your brand, the quality of your storytelling, proof that you believe in what you’re selling. It just works really well. We constantly see people taking pictures of their quarterlies, tweeting it at us, emailing our sales rep and saying this is awesome. That sparks that conversation where they’re like okay, yeah let’s talk, let’s see a demo. I go up to pick up the conversation we had three months ago about what Contently can do for us, it’s just a good strategy.

Matt Byrom:
Makes sense. As you say, anything physical and personal in these days in the age of the internet is like gold dust really. It’s one of the reasons for writing the book to have another way to prove your level of knowledge and understanding in the market and actually get another physical product into the hands of potential customers.

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah I’d say there was a couple reasons for writing the book. The first was that, we didn’t really necessary feel that the world needed another book about storytelling but the thing we’d noticed in the market was that there was just so many brands who were still creating mediocre content. There was a study by Beckett last year that 5% of all branded content, the top 5% of branded content gets 90% of all engagement with branded content. So it basically means there’s a few brands doing content marketing really well who are gaining a distinct advantage over the field, but a lot of people who are still struggling at it, even as marketers create more and more content. We wanted to write a book that would be really easy to read, very educational, it’s just a fun story driven book about the art of great storytelling, so marketers do go to a liberal arts school and study writing and storytelling for years like we did.

So we wanted to help teach people in the book and also show them how to apply it to their business. Definitely the benefit it would have for our brand was a big motivator there. We actually planned to self publish the book at first, like let’s write this up, we did so much research, so many interviews over the last few years, we should put a book together about this. We were going to self publish it first and just have it be another piece of collateral like the quarterly for our sales and accounts team, then Wiley reached out and were like, hey we love your stuff, have you ever thought about writing a book that would be like Sales Force’s book for content marketing and beyond the cloud is I think what it’s called, and we were like yeah actually we already wrote that book. So it just came together this past summer.

Matt Byrom:
That’s awesome, and the book is called The Storytelling Edge.

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah The Storytelling Edge, how to transform your business, stop screaming into the void and make people love you. Shameless plug, which is ironic given how much I’ve talked about not plugging your stuff in this podcast. But if you go to thestorytellingedge.com we have a ton of cool freebies if you pre order one book or more books excel rates everything getting it in person workshop with Shane and myself, so go and check that out if you’re interested or just want to learn more about the book. We also have a free storytelling course that you can find there on how to basically become a better storyteller. So if you’re not ready to buy the book but want to learn some stuff, we have some freebies too.

Matt Byrom:
Yeah, the site’s cool, I’ve had a look at the site and you guys are doing a bit of a Kickstarter type thing in terms of you can buy different packages and bundles and there’s extras that you get with each different level that you buy as well which is really interesting core way to do it.

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah, we’re trying to juice those preorders so we can get on some sort of best seller list. We got to be in Amazon number one new releases in some obscure business category, so now we can put that in all the adds, that’s a growth strategy right there.

Matt Byrom:
That’s a growth strategy.

Joe Lazauskas:
But if we get on, I don’t know if we’ll get on the Times list, but if we get on maybe the Journal’s list that would be a big win for me. Especially someone who went to a small lib arts school and spent all my days rolling around on the lawn writing in Moleskin notebooks and reading Tolstoy and dreaming about having a book one day. Didn’t think it would be a business book but that’s always been a dream of mine so you can help make it happen. Help make a Jewish boy from New Jersey’s dream come true.

Matt Byrom:
That’s fantastic. I think any writer, their dream is to write a book and then good on you and Shane for making it happen. I had a look at the book and it’s fantastic, so I definitely recommend going to thestorytellingedge.com and preordering and checking it out for yourself. I’d like to just come back to your marketing strategies a little bit further, if you’re to take Contently annual marketing plan, what would you actually, if you could only do three things like that are generating new leads, new customers, and the repeatedly working and working and working, your best strategies, what would you pick? What are the three best things that you would pick for Contently?

Joe Lazauskas:
I’ll try more things I haven’t talked about yet. The first is, we’ve had this campaign called the cannibal content series over the last six months that’s been hugely successful for us. So our big message now, we don’t need to educate people about what content marketing is anymore but we do really need to do a lot of work educating people about how to tie content to business results. That’s what our accountable content campaign in Sirius has been around, so this is a combination of a lot of things. It’s dedicated stories and video series on the content strategists, our blog, every month I’m watching new video series next week called content marketing minute, that’s focused on this. Did an interview series around this, we have a lot of very tactical ROI focused articles we publish each month around this, we tie that in with an event series across the country. So instead of big events we do these small VIP dinners with marketing executives where we talk really candidly about this huge issue of tying content to business results and present strategies and spark discussion around it.

We also focus a lot of our larger search marketing and internal client facing marketing efforts around it as well and it’s been crazy successful for us. Huge ROI 5X plus over the second half of last year so we’re continuing that this year because it’s working so well. Once you have a message like that you want to continue to associate your brand with that kind of idea. It’s also resonated really well with the analysts. Second, I think doubling down more on multi media formats in general. We’re seeing a lot of success there. We also want to practice what we preach, we want Contently to be seen as a leader in the market in that sense.

Matt Byrom:
You’re talking about bringing video in to the mix and things like that?

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah and doing better video series, doing stuff that’s very short, to the point, cuts that are optimized for social networks, practicing everything that we preach to our clients while also exploring downfall content interactive way so we’re releasing a few big research initiatives over this year that are going to have a lot of interactive components. I can’t really talk about them yet, but I think that is going to be really big and that’s probably one of our main focuses.

The last that continues to be huge for us is just that commitment to being thought leaders in the industry. That term gets thrown around a lot, and I almost hate the term thought leader at this point, but we almost need to push ourselves to examine what’s next for the industry. How can we talk about things that other people aren’t, how can we anticipate what the conversation next year is going to be around and that involves a lot of internal debate. We have weekly editorial meetings where we’re really pushing each other to come up with better and more innovative ideas, we are huge dorks for everything that’s coming out of different trade publications and analyst groups so we ensure that we’re on top of where the conversation is. We use a lot of our own content strategy tools, we just went through a huge exercise at the end of last year for my content strategy team to apply that to our own marketing efforts.

So staying ahead of the curve is huge for us. It’s a soft strategy but I think it’s really important. Bonus one is with the right events, we haven’t done a ton of trade events in the past, we figured out how to do them better and that’s been a really big ROI channel for us. I think we’re really surprised to see how much interest that places like Serious decision summit and content marketing world, there was within our group with Contently and that paid for itself within six weeks of doing those kinds of sponsorships so a little bit of old school there, trade is big for us.

Matt Byrom:
That’s interesting, it’s not surprising that everything but your bonus tip there relates around content marketing really. I guess what I’ve understood from this really is you create great content that has thought leadership, promote it big to obviously you’ve got a huge audience from your email list and the other people you deal with, your talent network and things like that as well, then what I understand is you bring it down to a personal touches with letters, messages that you sent out, in person events on a small scale to really give people a personal touch and get in there on a smaller scale, once you find the right people to talk to. Would that be fair to say?

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah that was a great summary.

Matt Byrom:
Cool. So I guess we’re coming to a wrap up really, we’ve got a last five questions if you’d be happy to answer. So what’s your best piece of marketing advice?

Joe Lazauskas:
Focus on your audience. I’ve probably said that so far but really obsess with what are the challenges, what are the interest of the audience you’re trying to serve, especially in a B2B setting, how can you make them better at their job, how can you make them look really freaking good to their boss and their colleagues. If you can do that for people, if you can make them feel smarter, my co-author Shane Snow has a great post about this on Linked In right now. If you can make people feel smarter and better at their jobs, they’re going to love you forever.

Matt Byrom:
Absolutely, 100% agree with that. If you can help people, give them advice and support and actually help them do things in their own business they will thank you forever for it really. Can you recommend a book? I know what the answer to this one might be.

Joe Lazauskas:
I’d recommend our book, of course. If I’m going to recommend another, probably my favorite book last year was You’ll Grow Out of It by Jesse Klein. It’s a hilarious book of non-fiction humor essays. I actually think non-fiction humor essays are a great teaching tool for telling really, really good stories because it will help you figure out how to bring your own experiences into the stuff you write about. First person works really well for us and for me personally I use first person in probably 75% of the blog posts that I write, we use it throughout the book. Except we use it as a royalty like if Shane and I are in one of those giant two headed horse costumes, and I’m the butt or something. I would encourage you to check that out. There’s one story called Dale that’s a little NSFW, about an experience with a Disney character at Disney World at a wedding, but yeah check it out.

Matt Byrom:
I’ll definitely check that out. Sounds very interesting. So what software tool could you not live without?

Joe Lazauskas:
Contently, first, we have all of our marketing in there. I won’t screw that up, I might get yelled at by my boss. Next Buzz Sumo, best cheap social analytics tool out there. You’re crazy if you’re not using it.

Matt Byrom:
We love Buzz Sumo here as well, it’s useful on a daily basis really, we use it all the time.

Joe Lazauskas:
Similar Web too, we just started using that, big fan.

Matt Byrom:
On a free basis? We use Similarweb but we’ve not used it on a paid basis, I know you can get some data for free on there as well.

Joe Lazauskas:
Yeah we use it for free, just got the paid version, it’s been worth it.

Matt Byrom:
That’s good to know, we’ll check that out as well. If you look back at marketing campaign over time, could be recent could be a long time in the past, what would you say your favorite example of a marketing campaign is?

Joe Lazauskas:
That’s a really good question. I mentioned GE reports earlier, which I still just love that it’s fundamental core cause Tomas Kellner who runs it is a former editor at Forbes, and it’s just this awesome reporting about the bad ass innovations going inside GE. He’s actually breaking news about cool stuff that they’re inventing and they do it in a lot of different ways, it’s like Snap chat, it’s periscope live streams, it’s a lot of times just a lot of cool digital heavy written reports they go viral on Reddit all the time which is super hard for any marketer to ever do. I would say check them out.

Matt Byrom:
Where can we find more info about that?

Joe Lazauskas:
Greports.com. If you also google Contently G Reports I’ve written too much about them at this point because I’m such a geek for their program, but it is great B2B tech centric storytelling, that’s probably my favorite.

Matt Byrom:
Awesome thank you very much. Which other podcasts do you listen to apart from this one of course?

Joe Lazauskas:
I’m a huge pod save America fan. The guys at Croked media, they are three former Obama speech writers, they launched this whole podcast called Crooked Media that’s a hilarious take on American politics, liberal slant. That’s definitely my favorite. Also we’ll plug, if you’re looking for a good marketing podcast, Unthinkable by Jay Acuzno, really good podcast focused on strategies for creating great craft centric content, telling great stories, I like that one a lot. Those are two I’d recommend.

Matt Byrom:
That’s great and thanks for recommending the podcast by Jay there, we actually have Jay on a future podcast as well so Jay from Unthinkable will be on a future podcast with us which we’re really looking forward to as well.

Joe Lazauskas:
Everyone listening should definitely check that out.

Matt Byrom:
Cool, well and Joe thank you very much it’s been a pleasure speaking to you today, thanks for being on our inaugural podcast, it’s been great to have you and everyone should check out Contently and of course check out the Storytelling Edge, new book by Joe as well and Shane Snow.

Joe Lazauskas:
Thanks guys, thanks for listening, thank you for having me and check out the content strategist, it does not plug Contently nearly as much as I’ve plugged all my stuff on this podcast so far, so you can look forward to that.

Matt Byrom:
Thanks Joe, we’ll speak to you soon.