How Much Advice Should You Give Away For Free? With Matt Snodgrass From MarketingProfs [AMP 073]
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How much should you give away for free? Should you solve every problem for your audience, even when they do not buy your product or service? Determining how much content to give out for free can be challenging. Whether it is free or fee-based, make sure your content is valuable and helpful to users.
Today, we’re talking to Matt Snodgrass, Director of Marketing at MarketingProfs – which is all about learning. Whether it is for blogs, podcasts, or seminars, learn how to attract amazingly talented subject matter experts (SMEs) that contribute content to your business. Discover how to plan themes and content months in advance. Join us for a pack of actionable takeaways!
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- When it comes to marketing, you may play many roles and do a little bit of everything.
- MarketingProfs focus on various types of content because people respond differently to types of content, depending on whether they prefer to read, watch, or listen to content.
- Developing a process for prioritizing content to educate others and identifying SMEs/potential influencers and topics you need to focus on to guide your business.
- Make different types of content available on-demand. Let the users learn on their schedule.
- Compile a backlog of content, so you can tailor and customize it to some degree. For example, you can have one month focus on one topic, and then the next month, focus on a different topic.
- MarketingProfs’ product is content. Courses, Webinars, seminars – everything the company does revolves around content.
- It can be difficult to determine how much content to give away for free. MarketingProfs’ Website contains mostly free content. But for a fee, users can subscribe to additional in-depth content.
- Avoid junk by making sure the content you offer has value. Convey the principles of good marketing.
- Learn how to become an authority for your niche by not being afraid. Let go of worrying that people do not care about what you have to say.
Nathan: How much should you give away for free? Should you help your audience solve every problem without buying your product or service? It’s a question I hear all the time and the answer just might surprise you, which makes this the perfect conversation to have with the marketing industry’s leading publisher, MarketingProfs.
Today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast, you and I are sitting down with Matt Snodgrass, the director of marketing at MarketingProfs. You’re about to learn how to attract amazingly talented subject matter experts to contribute content to your business and learn how that helps MarketingProfs plan four and a half months of content in advance, yes seriously.
You’ll also learn why MarketingProfs plans blog content, podcasts, seminars, courses, and a whole lot more. In addition, you’re gonna learn how monthly publishing teams can help you stay organized. In short, this episode is packed with actionable takeaways. I’m Nathan from Coschedule and I’m amped to dive in so let’s chat with Matt.
Hey! Matt, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Matt: Absolutely Nathan, thanks for having me.
Nathan: Yeah. I’m excited to have you. Matt, MarketingProfs is doing some pretty cool stuff and I haven’t had the chance to pick anyone’s brain on this, but I think you would have the answers for this. Just grand scheme of things, what’s the vision behind MarketingProfs?
Matt: Well at our heart, we’re a training organization. We were founded in 2000 by Allen Weiss and the website was founded as a resource to help us MBA students in his marketing program, and we’ve kind of been about learning from the very beginning.
He created this website with all these resources that he wanted to use, kind of as ancillary resources in class for students. From there, it grew very much organically. It spread through word of mouth and a few years later we actually had a business model around this whole thing, around the idea of learning, and providing great resources. You could say that we’ve been about learning from the very beginning, it’s in our DNA.
As time has passed, we’ve continue to be about producing great content but always with that idea of learning, always with the reader in mind. Our goal here is to help people learn and in the end, to create smarter marketers. That’s our goal, to make better, smarter marketers.
Nathan: I absolutely love that and I think you’re gonna help our audience become better, smarter marketers.
Matt: That’s our goal here. I hope we could do that.
Nathan: Absolutely actionable.
Matt: Yes, absolutely.
Nathan: I was wondering Matt, just specifically with you, what are you doing? What’s your role there? How do you make that vision a reality? Continuing that learning process.
Matt: I am the director of marketing here at MarketingProfs and I do a little bit of everything. We all wear a lot of different hats. I just said we were founded in 2000, and we’ve been around for 18 years, just close to 20 years, but in some ways we still have very much of this kind of start-up or bootstrap mentality because we’re all about helping one another, we all do a lot of different things.
On any given morning, I could be writing a content piece, I could be helping someone launch a PPC Campaign, editing promotional videos, reviewing emails, working on a project positioning statements, across the board. If it’s marketing related, I’m probably touching it at some point. I would love to say that, “Oh, I do this and it fits nicely in this neat little box,” but I can’t say that, I do a little bit of everything.
I think that is really what helps MarketingProfs run. I think that’s what makes a good, well educated marketer, having sort of a breadth of information. I always refer to myself as a marketing generalist, not a specialist in any one area, I know a little bit about a lot of different things. In my position as the director overseeing a bunch of different things, that’s very helpful for me versus having a very limited scope of knowledge in one particular thing.
Nathan: Yeah. I think that’s really interesting and I know you guys are doing a lot of different types of content. Can you explain that a little bit more? Why are you focusing on such a breadth of different varieties? Why haven’t you just honed in on one thing? Could you explain that a little bit?
Matt: Yeah. It gets a little nerdy, but internally, in the end, this is all about learning. We know that different people respond differently to different types of content. Some people are better when they read things, some people are more visual and they like to watch things, some people like myself, I listen to podcast like it’s my job when I’m doing the dishes, or painting the bedroom, or cutting the grass, or doing laundry, or whatever. I’m constantly listening to podcasts of all shapes and sizes. For me that works, I love listening, I love being able to multitask and listen at the same time, but internally we talk about these different learning modalities and all learning modality is just really a boring way of saying different types of learning because we know that for each person, there is going to be a different way of learning that works best for them.
Initially we were all focused on just the written word and we’ve branched out. We offer courses, we offer seminars, we have 10 minute video tutorials, we have white papers, we have guides, we have podcasts, you name it, we have these different learning modalities and it’s designed so that you, Nathan, can walk away with the same pieces of information that I have, but we’ve learned it through two different channels. I listened to mine, maybe you’ve watched yours, or maybe you’ve read yours, or whatever method works the best for you. It always gets back to this idea of learning and we wanna do it right by the learner, and do the best for who our audience is.
Nathan: Makes a lot of sense and I can tell you I’m a reader. I’m a big fan of what you guys are doing over there for the blog, it’s wonderful. You kind of mentioned this, you might have started with a blog, you’re doing a lot of different things now. I was kind of wondering what was your process like for prioritizing those projects to help make this vision of education for the marketing world? How do you prioritize those projects to reach that goal?
Matt: It was interesting because in some ways, I feel like we were ahead of the curve on some things and then otherwise I feel like we were behind the curve. For many years when we first started out, we’re talking about 2000s or early 2000s, when a lot of content was still written. YouTube was a very nascent technology, the social media channels that existed 15 years, 18 years ago were much smaller, there were fewer of them than they are now and so the creation of content was a lot different at that time.
We kind of always prided ourselves on getting speakers, or facilitators, or authors, or subject matter experts, or contributors. We kind of prided ourselves on getting them before they got big. I got Kawasaki or Seth Godin before they made it, we were talking to them in some capacity and had them do some writing for us, or do some content for us, and really it was from our subject matter experts who sort of saw this change that was happening and said, “Hey, here’s where you guys need to be, here are the things that you need to focus on because this,” whatever the topic was at that time, “is going to be hot in the next X years, or this topic is going to really take hold over the next few years so you guys need to jump on that train.” I attribute a lot of that to the great subject matter experts that we’ve been associated with for nearly 20 years that have helped guide us and helped moved on that line.
When we really, really started focusing hard on learning as far as creating other avenues, we realized, “What’s the best way to achieve this? Yes we could go around the country and have a traveling road show, and have people come to us in every city, but it’s not as economical as it could be and it’s not always convenient for everyone, but what people are really gravitating towards is online learning.
You could see from the explosion of online learning that’s happening in the last 10 years, whether it be MarketingProfs, or HubSpot, or any of these various nooks that are out there, or a lot of college campuses are going to online learning.
There’s just been such a diversification, and as I said such an explosion in the online learning that we said this makes perfect sense, this is a great fit because we have all this great content and people can access it at any time, whenever it’s convenient for them, they don’t have to show up at a specific time of the day for 90 minutes here, or two hours here, or an hour here, we can make it bite size, we can make it mobile compatible. We really moved into sort of the online learning about 10 years ago or so and we haven’t looked back since then.
Nathan: Well that makes sense. Everything is on demand like I wanna learn what I wanna learn and don’t tell me when I need to learn it because our generation isn’t that way anymore.
Matt: That’s it.
Nathan: Yeah. Matt, you said something I kind of wanna pick on too there is you’re working with subject matter experts and working with them even before they might even become ‘influencers’, what’s your process for finding those sorts of people with massive amount of talent to help you create amazing content at MarketingProfs?
Matt: As far as our process goes, we have gotten to a point where we have a backlog of content of about four and a half months, that means from now until May we have enough content to fill our site, whether it’s a blog, or courses that we’re putting out, or seminars and it’s gotten to a point where we have people approaching us and it’s unfortunate but a time we have to say sorry, this is great but we won’t be able to do anything with this for four months, or five months, or six months. If this is something that you are looking at getting published now, we can’t do that. It’s a problem but it’s really an amazing problem to have when you are being approached by all kinds of people.
We do get to look at the quality of content that comes in, we do get to do somewhat of cherry picking to find what is gonna most resonate with our audience. As we talk about, we really put premium on learning, we believed in our heart of hearts that learning is transformative, it equals transformation. We know that learning can change lives.
Honestly, learning has the power to change the world. That’s kind of our number one goal that infuses everything we do. When we look at the pieces of content that come in through that lens, it’s much easier to pick out pieces that are maybe more self-promotional, or maybe are promoting a company, or a product, or whatever it is versus pieces that are truly educational in nature and that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking to put out content that really does help the end user.
Nathan: That’s amazing. I was gonna pick your brain on that just a little bit and maybe you’ve already talk through all the benefits, but being proactive like that and having that big of a backlog. What sort of benefits have you guys seen from that?
Matt: The nice thing about that is you get to see a whole spectrum of content. We have hundreds of subject matter experts that we have relationship with, that are in contact with us. It allows us to tailor what we’re doing to some degree.
Just this year in 2018, we have put out specific topic months, February for example is a Metrics and Analytics month so we have a new class that’s launching on Metrics and Analytics, we have a new seminar that’s launching specifically through that, we’re putting out a How to Guide on Metrics and Measurement Analytics. What we can do when we have this huge host of content to choose from is that we can do that, we can say that, “February, this is what we’re gonna focus on.” We know that it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but maybe March will be about Content Marketing, and maybe April would be about Marketing Writing.
We’re able to do that much better, we’re able to focus on one thing, we’re also able to be more responsive to what people looking for. We’re constantly talking to our users, we’re constantly talking to our readers to see what they want more of. When something bubbles up to the top, whatever the topic maybe, we can look at what we have in the queue for the next so many months, and say, “Okay, we’re gonna move these things ahead because this is what people wanna talk about now.” Because if we don’t, if we say, “Great! We have this stuff that you want now, we’re gonna give it to you in four months,” we may have lost our window, we may have lost the interest of the end user.
It really allows us to do a lot more customization than you could if you were just kind of doing everything on the fly and creating things as needed. We already have these things created, it’s just a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together in a way that makes the most sense, that makes the prettiest looking picture, so to speak.
Nathan: I really like that idea of a monthly theme. Just to pick on that just a little bit more, number one, I’m gonna tune into Analytics and Metrics because I think that every marketer needs that stuff. It’s a really cool topic, but even during this month when you have this theme, that’s not the only type of content that you’re publishing, that’s probably in addition to maintaining what you’ve always done for the status quo. Is that correct?
Matt: That’s correct. We have our daily newsletter that goes out, we have several blog posts or articles that go up every day, we have a weekly newsletter that comes out, we have our monthly seminar that we do for our Pro Members which is our Premium Members. All those things stay the same and now we’re adding more content to the mix. If in February, Metrics doesn’t interest you there’s still all the other stuff that we offer that’s gonna be available to you at any time 24/7.
Nathan: Fascinating. If you have to think about a typical week, how much content are you publishing? What kinds of content make up the weekly publishing cadence for MarketingProfs?
Matt: We have our daily newsletter that goes out and that would be anywhere between four and six new pieces of contents per day. Keep in mind obviously, those aren’t all created every day. We do have this backlog of content that we pull from and that comes from external subject matter experts that we have aligned with.
We have our own internal content team that’s creating things, that’s creating our courses, our seminars, our How to Guides, and then we have our marketing team. Our marketing team is creating a content that is more marketing related and marketing process is interesting because content really is our product. Some companies may create content around a product, say, if you have a physical product if you’re manufacturing company, if you have software as a service, or whatever it is, but our product is content. Everything we do in some way, shape, or form revolves around that, whether it’s a new course, or new articles, or a new webinar, or a tutorial that we’ve talked about, everything that we do revolves around the idea of content.
Nathan: That’s really interesting. Something that I wanna pick on right there that would be an interesting question for you is how much is giving away too much? This is a question that I get all the time when you’re using content marketing to market something and I think you’d have a really interesting perspective with content as a product. How much is giving away too much?
Matt: That, as you correctly alluded to, it’s a really interesting question. It’s something to be quite candid that we really wrestle all the time. The majority of the content that we put out on our site is free content.
I mentioned a minute ago that we have a pros subscription which is a premium level, which is a paid subscription and that kind of gets you behind the curtain, you get access to much more in depth content there, but it really is a constant struggle because what you are always trying to do, whether you’re in marketing for the MarketingProfs product, or if you’re marketing for Caterpillar, Quick Enter, IBM, or GE, or whatever the product is, your goal is to create new leads, that’s what we could do as marketers. We’re always looking to get new leads and to get the leads we constantly have to be creating new content, and that content has to be free.
When you’re doing that, you know that the end goal is to keep people getting people through the door, keep getting people to read your things, to listen to your things, to watch your things, or whatever it is and the easiest and the best way to that is to make it free.
But when you talk about content being behind a paywall or a gate, that turns people off because there is a ton of great content out there that’s free, there’s a lot, an amazing amount of great content out there that’s free so we’re constantly faced with this push back of why should I pay for anything? Why should I pay for a training course? Why should I pay for the seminar? Why should I pay for your membership? The reality is one, sometimes honestly, you get what you pay for, yes there’s a lot of great content that’s free out there, let’s be honest, there’s a lot of great content out there that’s, if I get a better term, that’s crap, and sometimes it’s hard to know what’s the good from the bad.
I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve sometimes read something that I know could be construed as, to use a popular term I guess, fake marketing. I’m doing air quotes and this is terrible on a podcast because you can’t see. The word marketing and the phrase marketer, sometimes when I tell people that I’m in marketing, or that I’m a director in marketing, or that I’m a marketer, I’d get this like, “Oh, you’re the one who makes my kid want to buy Call Of Duty and they’re seven years old.” That is marketing but that’s not all we do. There’s this kind of this connotation of the word marketer and marketing that can sometimes be negative and it’s not help by a lot of the junk that’s put out there.
What we try to do is we try to do good marketing, we try to market on the up and now we’re not about clickbait-y subject lines, and we’re not about fake redirects, or anything like that. We’re trying to convey the principles of good marketing by doing good marketing. We’re trying to do good by being good.
When we talk about that in terms of how much is too much for free? I promised I will bring it back. The idea is you could spend your whole day looking around for all this free content and you might be able to find it, you don’t know if it’s reputable or not, but you might be able to. We can turn around and say, “Look, we’ve established ourselves, we’re in this business for a long time, we’ve got a track record to show what we’re giving you is good quality content.”
We’ve kind of settled on this sweet spot, these percentages aren’t exact but I would say probably 75%-80% of the content that we put out is free with the remaining 20%-30% of our content is kind of behind that table and that’s what we’ve fallen right now in 2018. That might change in 2019 and 2020, sometimes those numbers go up or down depending on how the market is reacting to things, if you wanna put numbers on it, that’s about where we are, roughly three quarters of stuff that we offer is free content.
Nathan: That is really amazing actually and a really good answer to such a weird question, honestly.
Matt: I know it went a little long there. Sorry about that.
Nathan: No, no, no, no, it’s wonderful. I can tell you that your strategy works. The way that I look at you guys is if your content that your giving away for free is that good, what is the content that you’re getting, its gonna be amazing. It’s like a validation play in some ways for you too.
Matt: That’s exactly right, that’s what we wanna do. We want to talk to you as an end user upfront, we wanna establish that credibility with you. Our goal is not the first time we see you to try to shake your hand and tell you something immediately off the bat, we know that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for any product line, that’s not effective.
The most important thing is to build a relationship, and the way we build our relationship is by being committed and dedicated, driven by this idea that learning can change lives, and we know that not everyone buys into that, and we’re okay with that because if you’re not dedicated to learning, if you’re not dedicated to boosting the craft of being a marketer, if you’re not dedicated to making yourself better, that’s fine.
Maybe our product is not for you, maybe our services are not for you, and maybe the articles that we put out is not for you. If you’re looking for a quick hit and to change your life by reading one article, MarketingProfs probably isn’t the place. But if you are willing to put the time in, if you’re willing to be committed and dedicated to your craft, I think what you’re gonna find is that learning really can change you as a marketer, can change your role in your company, can change you as a person.
Nathan: I really like that and I think it shined through with everything that you’ve done. We’ve had the honor of working with you guys on blog posts, some of your courses that are gated, your podcast too. I think your team is doing amazing work over there.
Matt, one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about was all of that hard work and the hard work from your team members who I’ve had that chance of working with have really helped MarketingProfs become, this is your quote, trusted by over 600,000 marketing professionals. You guys are pros at this, I wanna ask you what’s your best advice for marketers looking to become a leaning authority like you guys have become within their niche?
Matt: I’m gonna give advice that is sort of “do as I say, not as I do” because this is something that I personally struggled with, but the advice for marketer looking to become an authority, I would say don’t be afraid. One of the hardest things for me has been to let go of this idea that’s causing me to think, “Who’s gonna care about what I [inaudible 00:22:53] say,” “Who wants to hear what I have to say,” and I think that’s something that a lot of marketers and a lot of people in general struggle with.
The idea that, “Oh, I have these ideas in my head, they’re good ideas, but what if I put them on paper and people think that they stink, that they’re not good, and that they don’t care about them.” I think we as human beings struggle with that every day, whether we’re an accomplished writer, or screenwriter, or movie star, or whether we’re a marketer writing our first blog post for a company that just started three months ago. The whole spectrum, we all suffer from this, but I think the important thing is you’ve gotta do it, you’ve gotta start that, you’ve gotta start putting yourself out there, you have to start putting something out there.
You’re creating content for your company all the time, we do this day in, day out, why not create some content for yourself. If you’re looking to become an authority, the first step is putting things out there, and it’s not gonna happen overnight. You’re not gonna put out your first article and get 5000 comments on it, but these things take time, and it’s this sort of slow accretion, or this slow accumulation, the slow build up that eventually you’re gonna have not necessarily a backlog of four and a half months, but you’re gonna have this content behind you pushing you forward.
All these things that you’ve done over weeks, and months, and years behind you sort of you ride that tsunami and eventually that wave is gonna break and you’re gonna say, “Holy cow! I’m here, I’m to the place where I’ve put out blog posts, and I get dozens, or scores, or hundreds of comments on it. It’s going to happen, but it’s not something that’s gonna happen overnight. But it will never happen if you don’t get past this thought of, “Who’s gonna care about what I say?”
Nathan: That is amazing advice, I absolutely love it. You have to start somewhere and I think, Matt, that’s the perfect way to end this, is start it and keep at it. I just wanna say thank you for being on the episode today. This was really great advice, thanks for letting me pick your brain.
Matt: Absolutely Nathan, thank you so much for having me. It was a great time.
February 20, 2018