How to Make Meaningful Experiences With Content

People learn from and remember their experiences. When they’re good experiences, they’ll want to come back for more. If you want your audience to keep coming back to you, you’ll need to create valuable experiences for them.

Today we’re talking to Carla Johnson, the brains behind Type A Communications and the author of Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. She will talk to us about how to create value with our content, how to manage change within your organization, and how to break the status quo.

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AMP045: How To Build Meaningful Experiences Through Your Content With Carla Johnson From Type A Communications
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Some of the highlights of the show include:

  • Information about Type A Communications and what Carla does there. She also talks about what it was like to co-write Experiences and some of the takeaways of the book.
  • Carla’s best advice for marketers who want to create value for their audience.
  • The differences between relationship-building and experience-creating, as well as why now is the right time to start focusing on creating experiences.
  • Examples of brands that have gotten the experience-building down to a science, including Nike and Vail Resorts.
  • Tips for making this new era of marketing something your company implements and succeeds with.
  • Carla’s basic steps behind content creation management and her best advice for marketers who want to break through the status quo.

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Transcript:

Nathan: Great experiences are memorable. They’re sticky. When they’re really good, those experiences keep people coming back for more. How can you create valuable experiences for your audience and why is it important to be thinking about this now? Carla Johnson is on the Actionable Marketing Podcast today to answer those questions and a whole lot more.

                    If you don’t know Carla, she’s the brains behind Type A Communications and the co author of the book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. She’s here to teach you how to create value with your content, how to manage that change within your organization, and how to break through status quo.

                    I’m Nathan from CoSchedule. Let’s check in with Carla. Alright, Carla, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Carla: Hey, thanks for having me, Nathan. I’m really glad to be here.

Nathan: I’m glad to have you. I was wondering if we could just start it off, Carla, by just telling me about Type A Communications and a bit about what you do there.

Carla: Absolutely. I help companies develop idea driven teams. It starts out where companies work on their brand story, their brand narrative, and then how do they make that come alive through the customer experience that they deliver. And then, how do they perpetually innovate what that looks like from coming from a narrative into an experience because a lot of companies will have things and they think, “Okay, we’re set.” But then it gets tired pretty fast because the world around us moves pretty fast and we want to always see things that are newer, interesting, and vibrant.

Nathan: That connects into my next question for you. I know a couple of years ago, you published the book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing with Robert Rose, which I’m sure is pretty fun. Tell me about that. What are some of the key takeaways from the book?

Carla: That was such a fun project because as Robert and I looked at what marketers are really doing to add value to the companies that they have, the gist of what we talk about is the ability to create value that’s different, unique, and distinct from what it is that a company sells from a product and a service perspective.

Nathan: In that book, you talked a lot about creating value. I think that’s something that  marketers hear all the time, like publish valuable content. I was just wondering about your experience there. What’s your best advice for marketers looking to create value through the content that they produce?

Carla: It’s interesting, Nathan, because I think when marketers look at the work that they do, they focus a lot on how can I create content that adds value by selling more stuff and they don’t start with looking at what is it that matters most to my audience, to my customers, what matters in their world, and how can I create value. They look back always to that product and that service.

                    If you look at companies like, I always love to use the Nike Plus app that you can use because it’s what I use a lot. People can download that onto their phone. They can use it for their workouts and track things but they never ever have to actually buy a pair of tennis shoes or a pair of shorts or any kind of workout gear, but they can still be involved in a part of that Nike brand through the experience that Nike facilitates.

                    That adds a lot of brand relationship but it’s what creates that bigger experience with the brand that actually drives greater loyalty and at the end, greater revenue for the brand. That’s what I would love to see more marketers start with, is what’s the experience that they know would be valuable to their audience that doesn’t have anything to do with what it is they sell and then how can they start to design content that’s valuable, that actually delivers that experience on a consistent basis?

Nathan: When we’re thinking about that, there’s a difference between building relationships, which seems kind of old school, something you talked about versus experiences via content marketing. What’s that difference between building relationships versus experiences?

Carla: Relationships still are really important. I don’t want to discount that and say that they don’t matter anymore. But I think just in the sophistication of consumers of content and customers and a social world in which we live, just having a relationship isn’t enough. Because if you look at what your life is like on a personal level, what you value so much is the experience that you have with a person, or with your family, or with your friends. That’s the foundation that actually builds that relationship.

                    The same goes with brands. The relationship is important but just more and more now, what we value as a society, is what’s the overall experience that we have with any kind of situation: friends, family, or personal life because those expectations are what come into our brand. That’s why we have to look at what’s the bigger and more rewarding, engaging, fun, entertaining, valuable kind of experience that we can deliver now because that’s what serves as a foundation of that relationship.

Nathan: Why is now a really great time for marketers to focus on building those experiences then?

Carla: I think a big part of it is just the difference in generations that we have. We have millennials and that’s really what they value now more in life, is what kind of experiences can we have because they see that that matters so much. How you experience the world around you, what you experience in the world.

I can’t say that people in other generations don’t value that experience. I think that just historically, up until this time, business has been able to focus on other things other than the experience. There were a lot of things that we didn’t have at our fingertips just a few years ago. Now, social media makes everything immediate. There are so many different tools that we have at our fingertips as marketers.

That ability to really deliver an experience and set people’s expectations is so important. That’s why we see so much more focus on it. Just a demand for attention. People can choose where they spend their attention. I know me, personally, I’m going to go for an experience that’s more fun, memorable, something I can talk about, something that makes me happy. That’s because I have a lot of those that I can choose from in addition to relationships. If I can choose to interact with a brand that gives me both a relationship and an amazing experience all across the board, that’s definitely where I’m going to go.

Nathan: That makes a lot of sense, Carla. I was wondering, you mentioned Nike has an app that provides a really good experience. Do you have a few other examples of brands that are doing this really well?

Carla: Yeah, absolutely. I’m in Colorado so one of my favourite is actually in my own backyard. It’s for Vail Resorts. It’s their epic mix. Are you a skier or snowboarder, Nathan? Do you do those?

Nathan: Oh, yeah. I love skiing.

Carla: Okay. As a skier, you can download their app and when you’re on the mountain, skiing, you can track how many vertical feet that you skied throughout the day, you can track and find where your other family members are, you can race against famous people like Lindsey Vonn. Not literally, but through the app, you can take pictures, you can track all this stuff.

                    That doesn’t have anything to do with the lift tickets that they sell but for me, it creates an amazing experience that I love and then I love to share that experience. That’s a big part of what builds a relationship for me. You have big B2B brands like Emerson. They have their I Love STEM site that focuses on how can they promote science, technology, engineering, and math to people who maybe aren’t going to stay in that engineering field because they think it’s too hard or maybe too geeky, maybe there’s something that’s more interesting out there.

                    They’ve done a phenomenal job of making those careers and STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math really fun, interesting, and actually exciting to their site. There’s a lot that we have an opportunity to do if we just start by looking at what kind of experience is it that we can start with to design around and then how can we create it from a content driven experience that ultimately supports the products and services that we sell but it doesn’t have to be the same thing.

Nathan: By now, I’m kind of sold on this idea that I need to change the focus on this. What are some of your best tips for rolling out change management or implementing, to use your own words, this new era of marketing?

Carla: I’m happy to hear you use that word change management because I think as marketers, that’s a skill that we undervalue and don’t realize how much it should be a part of just the day to day things that we do to manage expectations, to slowly and consistently usher and change and make sure that it’s something that we are able to do so we continue to evolve not just ourselves as professionals, but our departments as marketers and then also the companies that we work for.

                    When we look at starting to make this transition, I think the biggest thing that helps companies, when I see them be successful, is that we, historically, as brands, have always talked about what we do as the best and it’s the safest when we’re talking your internal audiences.

People don’t want to change because they’ve been told forever, “We’re doing the right thing. We’re the safe thing, what we’re doing right now.” And start to put some, I guess little fire under people’s feet. Make them feel a little uncomfortable and help them understand that what has historically been safe is now perhaps the risky option.

                    If you don’t begin to change, then that’s where the risk comes in. It’s not as if you can go home from work on a Friday afternoon and then come in to work on Monday and everything is changed and different. Butterflies, unicorns, and birds singing, the world that we’d love to see as marketers. But looking at how do we consistently work toward what it is that we want to continue to change.

With change management, a huge part of it that marketers need to understand is always communicating what’s that bigger thing that we’re working towards and especially as communicators, we’re going to get really, really tired of it, of talking about these things that we want to change, but we forget that this is the world that we live in. If you are in the accounting department or the product marketing department or all these other departments, that’s only just a small part of what it is that they hear all day.

Consistency and talking about the need to change is so important. When we do start to change, not looking to take on the world all at once, but looking at how can we do this, starting out in little opportunities that can show that we can have successful change so that people feel less threatened, less fearful, and are open to taking bigger steps down the road.

Nathan: Makes a lot of sense, Carla. Let’s just say maybe by this point, everyone’s on board. We’re at that point where we need to execute. It sounds like you’ve got some really great advice for that. Could you walk me through your basic concepts behind content creation management?

Carla: Yeah. Robert and I talk about this, if you’re looking to recover from what your approach has always been for marketing, this is your 12 step process to recovery. Looking at first of all, what inspires you to want to make this change, to start this revolution within your organization, but in a way that you understand that this is going to be a long journey. It’s not just something you do and then you’re done and then you move on.

                    But it’s people who are really committed to doing things differently within their organization and then recruiting the team to actually lead that. That doesn’t mean it always has to be marketing people because sometimes, it’s product people or engineering people who say, “We see an opportunity here that we have to stand out within our industry and to really show what it is that we do amazingly well and different from everybody else.”

                    Looking at what that team looks like to lead this initiative and then starting to put together a plan. That’s your first step. It’s looking at creating that content creation management group and then you start to organize. You’re going to define what it is that you’re working on. Define roles and responsibilities. [00:13:26]. Everybody agrees and supports what it is that you want to do and what your vision is for the group and then your content mission.

                    You always have that north star that guides all of your work. The great thing about your content mission is that let’s face it, as marketers, we get pulled and pushed in a lot of different directions and unless we have something to say, how does that align with what it is that we’re trying to accomplish on a bigger scale from a content mission perspective, you don’t have any kind of filter that lets you understand what you should say yes or no to or to give rationale behind why you say no to. Because the hardest thing really as a marketer isn’t doing stuff, it’s being able to say no to things that diffuse your focus on what’s the most important.

                    Next, we look at how do we manage the work that it is that we’re looking to do. Mapping the experiences that we want to create to that mission and what it is that we want to have happen and then building each of those with a purpose. If we go back to Nike or an Emerson, they’re able to map all of their content and plan it and create the experience based on the purpose of what it is that they’re wanting to have happen with that experience.

                    That’s so important because again, that’s your north star. It helps you understand what to say yes or no to. And then looking at once you have one experience that’s been executed really well, how do you create an entire portfolio of them so it’s not just a one thing but you have a richness of experiences across your brand that people find value in?

And then looking at how do you measure and get feedback about the success, what you need to address, and this is like nobody likes to kill their own work. But maybe you did something and it didn’t turn out as well as you had hoped it would or it didn’t contribute in the way that you thought it would, getting rid of those and putting that money, time, and resources into something that’s a lot more effective. Really, once you have that measurement, then you can go back to the cycle and then look at what you’re doing and be much smarter about what you’re doing.

Nathan: Nice. I think that’s really great advice, Carla. One of the things that you mentioned was being able to say no and just the idea of focus there. What are some of your best advice for people that might have trouble with that in their organizations?

Carla: I think it goes back to making that content mission or that purpose behind what it is that the work that you’re doing is to accomplish. Continually focusing on that and showing examples of here is our mission and here is our purpose. This is what we did to support it and continuing to show how successful you can be when you do narrow that focus because when that happens, what the outcome turns out to be, a lot of times, is just so much bigger than you ever could have imagined if what you’re trying to do is please a lot of people and maybe go kind of in with the content mission or purpose behind your experiences but not all the way because it’s diffusing that focus that really draws the power away from this work that we’re trying to do as marketers.

Nathan: I think that’s awesome advice. Carla, I think that goes back to basically everything here. We’re kind of talking about doing away with status quo. Let’s talk about that. What’s your best advice for marketers to break through status quo?

Carla: Immensely interesting, Nathan, because as I’ve talked to marketers these last few years since the book came out, many of them have said, “This is a great process. We love it because we now understand how to operationalize these things.” But one thing that they struggle with is where do I get great ideas from?

                    To look at how to stand out from the status quo, we have to stop looking in the usual places and at the usual suspects for what we think we should look like, can look like, are expected to look like and start to draw inspiration from our work, from places that are completely different.

For marketers to break that, we have to start being able to look at brands and ideas and experiences that are completely outside of our wheelhouse. Nothing to do with our industry, nothing to do with marketing, and dig deep and understand what is it about that situation that works so well, what inspired you as a person.

And then connect the dots from that into what patterns do you see with brands that are doing that. And then how can you relate that into your own brand because that’s when you’ll start to stand out and show up differently. It’s when you start to take the source for your ideas from different places, then that’s how you have an opportunity to generate ideas in different ways and that’s where you start to break through the status quo.

Nathan: Nice. Carla, I think all of that is really great advice and probably a great place to end it. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Carla: Thanks, Nathan. I had a great time being here.