How can a startup's revenue double in six months? By creating content that's authentic and based on personal experience. Authenticity isn’t just a marketing buzzword.
Today’s guest is Jason Quey from Growth Ramp. He provides guidance on how to infuse authenticity into content marketing —because it’s easier said than done.
Ben: Hey, Jason, and welcome to the Actionable Marketing Podcast. How's it going?
Jason: Thanks for having me here, Ben.
Ben: Would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself and explain what you're doing with Growth Ramp?
Jason: Certainly. Growth Ramp is a company that I started that is on a mission to help a thousand entrepreneurs from idea to scale.
Ben: Very cool. Is there any significance behind the goal of setting it at a thousand or is that just a good number to target?
Jason: The reason for this is Kevin Kelly, several years ago, wrote about the 1000 True Fans theory. What it's about is how people who are creating different products, different services, and things like that, the way that they can have a sustainable business is having 1000 true fans. He talks about a true fan is someone who loves the product or service. I realized that if I wanted to prove that I had a good system to be able to help people going from idea to scale, I wanted to be able to do that consistently enough that I knew I had a good process in place. For me, it's helping those 1000 entrepreneurs get their own 1000 customers.
Ben: Yeah, cool. I know that you're a big proponent of authenticity in content, and I feel like the word "authenticity" is something that gets bounced around a lot in marketing circles, sometimes without full consideration for what maybe the word authenticity itself really even means. I'm curious, in your mind, to you, what does authenticity really mean in a content marketing context?
Jason: Back in the early 1900s, there was a freelance copywriter, named John E. Kennedy, and he stated that one of the most — I'd say — profound truths I've ever heard in marketing. He said that, “Good advertising is salesmanship in print,” and that is multiplied mechanically by the printing press. Now, you might not have heard of John E. Kennedy, but you likely have heard of the people who have been influenced by his work such as Rosser Reeves and Claude Hopkins.
Rosser Reeves, for those of you who don't know the history behind him, he's the one who coined the term Unique Selling Proposition. He was also a peer and mentor to David Ogilvy, one of the most well known copywriters. Claude Hopkins was the originator of scientific advertising. He's considered kind of the founder or the "father" of data driven marketing.
From this, love it or hate it, we're all on sales. SEO allows us to be able to answer customer questions at scale. It's effectively what the printing press has now become for us in the digital age. Let's tie this back then. How does this apply to authenticity in content marketing?
Many marketers have gotten that underlying problem that they're trying to focus on and trying to help solve. With their customers, they may have created a customer persona, but how many of them have actually taken the time to talk to the customers and find out the problems that they have. Because the problems that they have are what they're going to be going on to Google and doing a search for.
They may have found out what are the different keywords that they want to rank for in Google, but are those actually topics that their customers care about? The way that a marketer is able to find out is if those customers actually care about the particular problems they're trying to solve through the content, or the particular keywords that they're trying to rank for is actually getting out and speaking to the different customers. That builds not only the ability to be able to scale up, the ability to be able to sell those different customers through your content, but it also is able to create a deeper level of empathy between the content marketer and the person that they are talking to.
Ben: Yeah, I think that's a very thorough connecting-the-dots between history and the present in terms of how we can infuse more authenticity into content marketing and really make sure what we're creating is being empathetic to the user and addressing those questions that they have. Something else I really want to ask you about, I think that this is something that you really excel at with your own work, is infusing your own experience into the content and helping to answer questions and solve problems for people based on just external research but leaning very heavily on your own unique experience that really only you could provide — because it's your own lived experience as a marketer.
What do you feel, maybe beyond the obvious, what is the value in sharing your own experience through content versus relying solely on citing other people's research?
Jason: When I first began in content marketing, one of the things I had a lot of doubt about was the feeling that I really had something to contribute. Wrestling with a lot of impostors, here I am, I'm sharing about all these different things, and it’s like, who am I to say that I've got all of this figured out, that I could teach somebody else?
There were two "aha" moments that I had really early on that helped me to break through this. The first one was realizing that I could do that research to borrow the credibility of other people who were smarter than me; that's the value of citing other people's research. Content and SEO Marketers, they'll just simply link to any relevant step. My focus is not just simply linking to anything that's out there for the purpose of building links, but it's actually trying to help educate the reader about that information. I'll spend even a good 30–60 minutes digging into trying to find a primary source because sometimes there are stats put out there that are not actually factually accurate. If that information isn't factually accurate, I want to be able to provide that information.
The second "aha" moment that I had was that nobody can duplicate my experiences. While I'm borrowing the credibility of other people, if I start sharing my own experience, that is something that nobody else can steal.
One of the examples that I often give as a product marketer, one of the things I encourage people to be able to do, is to figure out what their value proposition is and ideally what is their unique selling proposition. Value proposition is what is effectively the value that you're providing to your different customers.
As an example, Blake Mycoskie who began Toms, his pitch was doing a one-for-one. Whenever somebody would buy a pair of Toms Shoes, he would then donate a pair to a child who was in need. This value proposition later came in the L.A. Times, and over the weekend, after that one mention, he was able to generate over $88,000 in orders.
Today though, there are over 30 companies using that one-for-one model, including famous brands like Warby Parker and ROMA rain boots. The list of all the different people who are using that type of value proposition can go on and on, but nobody can take that particular experience that Blake had in being able to tell that particular story with Toms.
For myself, when I say, for example, that I helped a startup be able to double their revenue in six months using SEO, I can share that experience. I can share all the things that I did in order to do that. Nobody could take that particular experience and say I also did that. That's what one of the big "aha" moments for me is being able to set my content apart from everyone else's content.
Ben: That's a great example of how you're able to do that yourself. When you're going through that research phase of even trying to find topics that you could target that are based on your own experience, what does that process look like for you?
Jason: One of the things I first start off is really talking to the customers I was talking about earlier and really being able to understand what are the core problems that they have. The thing is that going back to what we're talking about before, the goal of content marketing is to try to solve a customer's problems at scale. By having different conversations with the customer and saying, "What are some of the problems that you're experiencing right now in your business? What are the things that you wish you can do right now?"
By finding out some of those different problems, maybe the outcomes that they want to achieve, you then start being able to piece together some of the different topics that you can then start to write about.
Once you have that information, then you could start to watch how they speak about those particular problems, and this is on the side of the brand messaging. The reason why it's important to understand what are the exact words that these people are using is that different segments of customers will talk about the same problem in different ways. As an example, those who are ecommerce entrepreneurs talk about problems differently than early stage startups. Early stage startups talk about problems very differently than late stage startups, even though it can be the same topic of wanting to increase the amount of money that they have. The way that they'll approach it is totally different.
One example, when I was helping a brand marketer, one of the things I noticed is that a lot of people I talk about, they want to increase the brand awareness. For them, this was how they're communicating wanting to get their brand out there and increase through different marketing.
On the other hand, if you were to talk to data driven marketers, they tend to avoid the term "brand awareness" because that has become a catch-all term for anytime that the brand is being put out there. For them, brand awareness isn't something that they're really focused on or interested in, even though it's the exact same problem that they have, they talk about it in different ways. As a result, if you think back to your keyword research, you're going to target different keywords depending on the problem that somebody has, but then also how they're talking about those particular problems. Those are some of the things that I'm keeping in mind in trying to come up with different topics to be able to start talking about.
Ben: Totally makes sense. I think that's a really interesting point there that you make about how different groups of people can describe the same thing in two different ways, or they can look at what's essentially the same problem from two different points of view. Maybe something that we can dig into there is when you're talking about something that is maybe based on your own experience with something, you're going to be bringing your own ideas, your own values, your own set of experiences, your own language that you might use to describe those problems.
But a reader or a member of your audience might potentially look at the same thing completely differently. I feel like the answer to this might just circle back, like talking to your customers, but how do you make sure that when you are infusing a piece of content with something that is based on something that you've experienced yourself, how do you make sure that the language that you're using to describe that situation or solution matches not only what is authentic to you, but what's going to make sense to the person reading it?
Jason: One of the things as you're talking to different customers you can start asking them about not only what are the problems that they've had but also what they've done in the past to try to solve that. That's going to be a huge piece to be able to find out what they've done in the past, and they say, "I'm not sure this is going to work." If somebody would just simply provide a solution to them, they'll be like, "I've tried that before in the past, and it didn't work."
Providing and asking that particular question, you can then start to say here are some of the things you can do to make that work. From there, you can then start to think about what have I done to be able to solve this particular problem? And often what I'll do is I'll start to go and think about either what I've done in the past or what other people have done and try to think, "What are those core fundamental principles that are always going to be true no matter what?"
As I tell people, you should talk to the different customers and find out the language that they use. That's going to apply no matter what niche that you're in. Whether you're somebody who is a content marketer, or you’re a Facebook ads marketer, really doesn't matter because at the end of the day, you're communicating to that particular customer. By understanding those underlying principles, you can then say what story can I put on top of that? Can I use somebody else's story? Like at the beginning of this podcast, I borrowed some stories from other people from history, or I can share some of the things from my own experience and add that on top of it.
Whatever direction you decide to go, it's really just understanding what is that principle that you're looking to communicate to, your particular audience, and then what is some way to be able to make it easier for someone to be able to understand by sharing their own experiences or from the experiences of other people?
Ben: Before we get too much further along, if you're looking for an example of what the kind of content that Jason is talking about actually looks like, he wrote up a great case study for us on one of his clients, this company called Decibite, and how he helped them grow using the concept of comparative advertising. Now, that's a completely different topic from the one that we're discussing on the show, but that blog post that he wrote is a really great example of someone putting their money where their mouth is and really delivering the kind of content that they are advocating for others to create as well.
I believe if you found us through our blog, you should be able to find the link to that post within the show notes. It could be a podcast blog post, or the shownotes of potentially whichever podcast platform it is that you are listening to us on, or you can even just go to the blog and just do a quick search. Lots of different ways you can find it, but it's definitely worth your time to go check that out and just give it a read. Now, back to the show.
Say I'm a marketer, and I'm listening to this episode. I'm kind of in the situation where maybe you were at the beginning of your career one time where you had some of that self doubt and imposter syndrome where you weren't sure what you could possibly talk about that would be a value to people, or that you would have enough authority on to really authentically write about. If someone else is in that position, how would you recommend that they start the process of finding something that they can share that others would find valuable? I ask this because I feel like if you've been in this industry for any length of time, you have something. You know something that someone else doesn't, right? How do you identify those things?
Jason: Before I had started Growth Ramp, and I had my go to market system, that was all in place. One of the things that I did was I interviewed other people who had solved that particular problem.
As one example, I interviewed Hiten Shah, who had started KISSmetrics. He had started Crazy Egg, and then he has recently started FYI. From Hiten Shah's experience, I could then start to craft an article that was around that and be able to find out what are the things that he did to go from zero to a thousand, which is what the outcome that my particular audience wants to learn more about.
The other thing you can do, too, is you can do what I call a tear down analysis. You can look at a particular company that you respect and then look at some of the things that they're doing right now and talk about some of the different things that you would do if you were to do marketing for them.
This is a way to be able to show your expertise by stating here's the different things that I would do. Naturally, there's going to be things that you don't know what is going to be best because you don't see everything that's happening behind the scenes. But both of these approaches is something you can do to be able to share something valuable to other people, and it is something that I've seen drive leads.
One of the things that, as somebody who's focused on trying to help people go from idea to scale, one of things that I've been relentlessly testing is finding out what are the different content types that are going to generate leads. By talking to those who have already done it, this associate's your brand with that particular outcome.
The other thing is by showing those different teardown analysis, you're showing your information to someone and somebody who wants to buy your particular product, or your particular service wants to see your thought process and how you would do that particular offering for them.
By doing these different analyses, you'd be able to show that to someone before you were able to share something that you feel that's kind of original to you. Both of these directions, there's a way you can start even from the very beginning not only to create content that's valuable and it's authentic to who you are, but then at the same time start getting new leads.
Ben: Yeah, I think that provides a very strong framework for someone to get started with. I love that idea of leveling up your own experience and your own knowledge is by talking to other people to solve those problems for you, for sure. Once a marketer has gotten past those initial stages, like what you've described, and they've got some ideas for things that they could create or things they could talk about, how would you recommend they begin prioritizing those ideas?
Jason: Let's go back in history to the 1960s. There's an ad executive, named Eugene Schwartz. He identified five different types of buyers. There's most-aware buyers, product-aware buyers, solution-aware buyers, problem-aware buyers, and those who are unaware — unaware buyers.
The customers who are most likely to buy from you today are called most-aware customers or most-aware buyers, and these customers know your product, they recognize their need for it. He's almost ready to buy from you right now. What you need to do is just simply provide an offer, provide some social proof to help them see that this is going to be what it is that they're looking for and affirm it, and start going right away.
The next is the product-aware customers. These customers are aware that your particular product or service exists, but they're not sure whether it is right for them or not, and they're comparing you to the different competitors. Here is where I often recommend people start creating content, and the reason for that is that most-aware customers tend to fall very closely aligned to what I've noticed with product-aware customers.
If you create different content that is a comparison between you and your competitor, and you can do that again by just talking to the customers and finding out who you are using alongside our particular product, or are there other people that you are considering for a particular service? Once you get that information, then you can start to create content for these product-aware customers.
As an example, it's very common for SaaS startups that they will create alternative pages. What this is, is say for CoSchedule, you guys might have an alternative page for, say, Hootsuite. If some people are comparing it, even if it isn't a 100% match between those, people are just simply looking for somebody that solves that particular problem.
If Hootsuite is something that is a product that is similar to CoSchedule, I would recommend creating that and help educate the customer of why CoSchedule is the better solution for the problems that they have. If you have earlier, as I was talking about before, if you had that value proposition or unique selling proposition, you can create your comparison page or comparison content to even showcase why your particular product relates to your value proposition.
The next type of customer is a solution-aware customer. With solution-aware customers they're aware of the particular challenges that they have. They know what the solution is that they're looking for. However, at this point, she may not be aware of what your particular product is and if it will provide the kind of outcome that she is looking for.
Here's an example, let's say a customer is looking to create a new website. She knows she needs web hosting, but she doesn't really know what are the different solutions that are out there. She's looking through and starting Googling around stuff regarding web hosting. Perhaps she's found out that she wants to have a fast web hosting. She's kind of aware of a little bit of what's going on, but she's Googling around trying to figure this thing, this type of information, out.
What's beneficial for these types of customers is different pages that describe the different features of your particular product. For example, when I was helping a web hosting startup, one of the things that I did was I talked about their high performance hosting and how that helped get them 50% or faster web hosting speeds.
Another example is I created a page for free, SSL certificates. I talked about how this startup Decibite was able to provide free SSL certificates, and they did that process automatically. Whereas, if you went through some other approaches, do it yourself approaches, you would have to continuously upgrade your SSL certificate. Or if you bought that through a company like GoDaddy, you'd have to pay X amount of dollars more whereas Decibite does it all for free. With a solution-aware customer, you're talking about content that's related to the particular features that you have.
The stage below, this is problem-aware customers. This is a lot more the top of funnel content that blogs tend to have, and here your customer recognizes they have some different challenges but doesn't know what the solution is.
This customer needs to learn more about how they can identify some of the different issues that they're currently facing, some of the problems that they have and how they can solve that. Typically, this is a lot harder to get someone to become a customer right off the bat, and so this is why it's very common for block content. You have someone go from reading the blog to joining the email lists. As they are nurtured, they can go from being a problem-aware customer to solution-aware, product-aware, being most-aware and then okay, we want to buy this particular product.
This is also one of the reasons why a lot of blog content doesn't convert well is because most have been so focused on problem-aware customers without realizing this framework that Eugene Schwartz had identified back in the 1960s. Because they're focused so much on these problem-aware customers, they're not ready to convert until several months, and sometimes even years, down the road.
By focusing on those who are a lot sooner down the funnel, when I did this for Decibite, that web hosting startup I mentioned, we started first with the product-aware customers. Like I said, I was able to double the amount of revenue within six months using content marketing and SEO. If you're looking strictly from a traffic perspective, it's not going to get that highlight deals or the sort of content where you hear about someone getting like 10,000, 20,000 people coming to a particular article or whatever the crazy number is that somebody has, but it's going to convert insanely higher because those product aware-customers are looking to buy right now.
The one that's right above the problem-aware customers is unaware customers. This is when back in the early 2010s, people started to talk about wanting to go viral. This is very common where people are saying I wanted to create this viral YouTube video, or I wanted to create this viral social media ad, whatever it may be. These customers are not even aware of the particular problem.
Think of this as someone who is suffering from cancer, but they haven't yet been diagnosed by a doctor, and so they might Google something, like, "What are the symptoms of breast cancer?" This is someone who is very, very top of the funnel. It is possible to be able to get these types of people to become customers. I've seen it best alongside products that have either a free trial or are freemium, but often these people are so high up on the top of the funnel, I would not recommend targeting this type of content until you're further down the road.
Start off by looking at those who are, like I said, a lot lower down the funnel, like those who are product-aware customers and solution-aware customers. Start creating content for them, and once you start to understand this framework, you can then also start to identify, "What content am I creating and where does this fit for each of these types of customers?"
If you understand these five different customer types, and as you begin to prioritize them, you can say, "I know this is going to target product-aware customers." Maybe you don't know at this point what is the likelihood that these people are going to become customers, if you just start with this framework, it's a good starting place to say ideally, I want to look for keywords that have high-traffic volume that are in product aware customers, and it's easy for me to rank for. Then maybe you prioritize something that has the product-aware customers that have a low amount of potential keyword volume, and it's maybe medium to rank for.
However you want to prioritize them, but this gives a little bit more of a framework to say what are the types of content that's going to convert? And then from there, you can then start to figure out where you should put this within your content strategy.
Ben: That's such a thorough answer. I love it. That really did not leave any stone unturned in that process of prioritizing those ideas. I think that might all sound overwhelming, but I think you've laid it out in a way that I think is very clear that people can take that one step at a time.
That about does it for all the questions I had prepared for you. Before I let you go, is there anything else on this topic that you would like to mention? Anything else you want to throw out there, or anything that you're kind of wanting to talk about but didn't get an opportunity to?
Jason: If anyone who would like to learn more about product marketing, this is the whole topic that I've been talking about between understanding how to be able to prioritize the types of content and being able to understand how to even position a lot of your marketing.
This is one of the common problems I've heard people say is that "I feel like the more I polish my website, the more it just looks like everyone else's messaging out there." Those are some of the challenges that they've had. I've created a free 14-day product marketing email course. If you go to my website, growthramp.io/ben. I have created a landing page for your different listeners, Ben, and they'd be able to get on my newsletter to be able to learn about those 14 different strategies that I have and different tactics that I've done in product marketing.
Those would be able to help those who are really just trying to understand more about how do I prioritize my content, how to be able to create content for each of those different stages. This is a lot of the principles that I use to help double Decibite's revenue and be able to find cost effective ways for them to acquire new customers at scale.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.