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There are some companies that have extremely high standards for the industry that they’re in. When it comes to content teams, one of the best is Intercom. Today we’re going to be talking to Geoffrey Keating, an editor for the Intercom content team. He’s going to let us in on his secrets when it comes to the jobs-to-be-done theory, how to create unique content, and how keep yourself on schedule by planning and prioritizing.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Nathan: There are those content teams who set new and extremely high standards for excellence in the industry. In my opinion, one of those companies is Intercom. Today, you and I are chatting with Geoffrey Keating. He’s an editor on the content team at Intercom. Geoffrey is going to share some of those core topics that Intercom covers on their blog and why exactly they do that.
You’re going to learn how to apply the Jobs-to-be-Done methodology into your content, how to come up with those unique content ideas for your own blog, and how to plan and prioritize way ahead of schedule.
I’m Nathan from CoSchedule and I’m pretty pumped about having Geoffrey on the show today so let’s listen to him. Hey Geoffrey, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Geoffrey: No, thanks for having me.
Nathan: We’re excited to be talking to you. I was wondering, just to kick it off, Geoffrey, could you tell me about Intercom?
Geoffrey: Intercom is a messaging platform for sales, marketing, and customer support. It’s really about helping businesses to connect with their customers in as personal a way as possible. What that means is that if you want to send a message to onboard a new sign up, you can use Intercom for that. Or if you want to send messages to customers who are not on your website, you can use Intercom for that as well. It really all comes back to that personal communication between businesses and customers.
I’m going to use the example of a coffee shop. Your local coffee shop owner will likely know all their customer’s preferences. They’ll know that Nathan likes decaf and that Geoff likes skimmed milk. I think what I’m trying to say is businesses really couldn’t have those sort of personal interactions with the customers that a coffee shop could so the product itself is really designed to bridge that gap, to make conversations between businesses and the customers just much more personal.
Nathan: We use it too at CoSchedule so we’re pretty excited to be chatting with you today. Specifically, you’re on the content team, what is it that you do at Intercom?
Geoffrey: I’m an editor on Intercom’s content team. In practical terms, that means I spend my days commissioning stories from authors around the company, editing drafts that have been submitted to us and really a lot of simple stuff like chatting to product managers and engineers about what’s happening in the industry. It’s through those conversations that the cogs start turning in my minds and about what sort of content we should be republishing next.
I like to think of ourselves as the internal journalist of the company. We’re always digging for our latest scoops. I think since the very start of Intercom, content has really been in the DNA of the company. I think sort of a truism for software companies in general is that since the very earliest days of the internet, if you write interesting stuff, people will end up visiting your websites. You might want to call that content marketing, some do. Our simple premise is really about if you write good stuff, you attract people to your products. It’s as simple as that really.
Nathan: I think you guys have done an awesome job at that. You just mentioned journalism. You think of yourself as a journalist and something that you’ve done recently was publishing some original research at Intercom on the best times to send a message. Tell me about that. What did you discover there?
Geoffrey: Full disclosure, this is actually partly informed by a post that I read on the CoSchedule blog. It’s a question that a lot of customers ask us, they’re always looking for high level advice like what’s the best subject line to use, what’s the best time to send a message. I guess when it comes to message timing, I hate giving the answer of it depends, it’s a really, really tricky question to answer. I think because the perfect time just has so many different variables.
If you’re actually trying to craft a message that matches every customer’s life cycle, their location, and their activity, not to mention the device that they own, some customers are on desktop, some are going to be on mobile, a good time for one is a completely bad time for another. It’s really, really hard to sort it down into one piece, one silver bullet.
Once we started looking at the data, I think we pulled around 1 million messages, we started to notice certain patterns emerging. We actually found what were good proxies for open rates. I think what we found was that the peak open rates for all types of messages across Intercom is 10:00AM to 11:00AM. This actually makes sense. The behaviour for most of us with email is we’ll do a quick triage in the morning and then we’ll leave the rest until we get to the office. It was when we extrapolated that data across the week, we saw that mainly from 10:00AM to 2:00PM, Tuesdays to Thursdays, at that time, you’ll get the greatest chance of your email being opened.
Full disclosure, in app messages are when you log into a product, you’ll see a little message pop out. For in apps, the open rates are actually quite different. The open rates are actually quite consistent. If you look at in apps at 9:00AM versus 3:00PM, you’re not going to see a really huge disparity. It’s actually pretty steady. I think that’s what we found. Again, full disclosure, our data is primarily for B2B customers. MailChimp have done some really incredible studies for message timing as well, that would probably be better suited for B2C. Take our data as you would with all data with [00:06:32].
Nathan: Something that I wanted to ask you was obviously, you guys are doing a lot with original research but you’re publishing a lot of different kinds of content at Intercom. What kinds of content are you publishing there?
Geoffrey: We break it down into three main verticals that we have. There’s our blog which is Inside Intercom. We publish five times a week there. As you mentioned, we have data stories but we also have contents on customer support, marketing, product management, design, you name it. Anything in the field related to Intercom, we publish.
We have our books. We have seven books, one in print and the other six are digital. Again, sort of wide birth of content. Everything from onboarding to startups, which is our most recent book. And then we also have a podcast which is once a week. The podcast centers around one conversation with someone per week, really about what they’ve learned in their career so far.
We’ll hopefully be adding to these formats over the coming months but at the moment, we’re a pretty small team. We try to focus on quality rather than quantity. Watch the space. We’ll hopefully have a few new formats over the coming months.
Nathan: Actually, that ties into something that I wanted to talk to you about. How big is the content team at Intercom that helps create all of that marketing collateral?
Geoffrey: Pretty small. We’re four people right now. Actually, I say small, if you compare it to a lot of companies, they’ll just have one person working on content, some will have none. They just contracted all those. If you look at the likes of HubSpot, they must have close to hundreds of people working in their content team. We’re just four at the moment. There’s John, our managing editor and myself based in Dublin and then there are two other editors based in San Francisco.
Even though it is a small team, we do have some incredible resources at our disposal, which obviously makes things easier. For example, our brand design team, I genuinely think are one of the best in the business. They’re responsible for the design of our content. That’s the blogs, the books, the illustrations. This contributes enormously to the impact that our team can have.
Nathan: You guys have four people creating all of that content including books and blog posts and everything. How do you do that with such a small team?
Geoffrey: It’s pretty tricky at times. We repurpose a lot of content as well, which is one thing that we’re super passionate about. For instance, we’ll take a research that someone has done in the company and we’ll take conference talks that people have given, even simple stuff like emails that people have circulated in the company. We don’t necessarily build all our content from the ground up. It doesn’t all start with commissioning an idea.
There’s so much content I think in a lot of companies that people are just sitting on that can easily be repurposed. That would be my first piece of advice to anyone starting out in content marketing, just keep your ears to the ground and look around. There’s a lot of content that you can work with just straight away.
Nathan: I want to talk about something you mentioned earlier. You mentioned that maybe you could call what you guys do content marketing but at Intercom, you’re slowly transitioning away from using that term. Tell me about that. Why is that important for you guys?
Geoffrey: It’s actually pretty funny. If we had this conversation maybe three weeks ago, I probably would still be referring to myself as content marketing manager. It was actually based on a post our managing editor wrote. I think it’s maybe just we’ve never really been 100% comfortable with the phrase content marketing in Intercom. I think it’s just when you combine content with the word marketing, maybe it’s the semantics, when you combine content with marketing, you actually end up undermining what you’re creating.
In general I think the phrase, it suggests that the entire point of producing content is marketing and I’m not sure I fully agree with that. I think the whole point of creating content is it’s really just to give people something that they really want to read, watch, and listen to. I think there’s a growing number of companies like Intercom, and I put CoSchedule in there as well, I think they just genuinely believe that if you focus on publishing great content, you’ll actually really need to do minimal marketing to attract people to your product.
I think BaseCamp pioneered this approach almost a decade ago. I think other companies like CoSchedule and Groove HQ, one of my favourite companies. They’re a really, really great example of this. I think just in general, people are finding that if you focus on content first, you can be far less aggressive trying to convert visitors that you’re planting the seed in people’s lives so that when they actually have a need for your products, they’ll probably end up buying yours.
Nathan: Geoffrey, I’m interested in another idea that you guys have. You’re dropping content marketing. You guys talk a lot about this Jobs-to-be-Done methodology to connect with that audience that you guys have been building at Intercom. Just for anyone who hasn’t heard of this, who’s listening to this episode right now, how would you define Jobs-to-be-Done?
Geoffrey: I guess Jobs-to-be-Done is the framework for understanding what actually motivates your customers to buy your products. It was pioneered by the Harvard business professor, Clayton Christensen. There’s some absolutely amazing videos in YouTube that you can get the full breakdown of what Jobs-to-be-Done is. I would highly recommend this. I guess, in essence, it’s in the same way that a boss hires an employee to make their business better, customers hire products to make their lives better, not necessarily just to buy the product.
You’ll hear all sorts of examples of Jobs-to-be-Done in the real world but I think the best one that I know of is when someone buys a drill, they’re not looking to buy a drill, they’re actually buying it to drill a ¾ inch hole. You’re drilling that hole because you want to make progress in your lives. You saw a picture in a magazine of cool frames and then you bought the print and then you got it framed and then you want to drill a hole so you can hang it. I think that’s, in a nutshell, what Jobs-to-be-Done is. It’s really about understanding the emotions that drive people towards the products.
Nathan: It’s a really smart framework. I’m just wondering, connecting that to the content team at Intercom where you work, how do you use Jobs-to-be-Done on your team?
Geoffrey: Full disclosure, Jobs-to-be-Done is mostly a framework for building products. Our products team and our research team would use it extensively. The content team specifically wouldn’t use Jobs-to-be-Done really in practice. We don’t sit with readers and try to understand the emotional forces that are driving them towards a specific blog post. I think that would be OTT. I think in general, the spirit of Jobs-to-be-Done infuses the entire company in Intercom. We definitely use it to inform or at least guide our editorial strategy.
I think it just in general reminds us that your customers, they actually really don’t care about your products, they don’t care about our competitor’s products either. In fact, customers in general, in my experience, don’t really care about that many products. The most important thing is that customer care about the progress they’ll make as a result of using your product. In general, we focus on creating content that will help people make progress in their lives.
Nathan: Why do you guys publish so much content about Jobs-to-be-Done at Intercom?
Geoffrey: We publish a lot of Jobs-to-be-Done. I think we publish maybe over a dozen blog posts and a book on Jobs-to-be-Done as well. I think the main reason is that even though there’s so much literature right there for Jobs-to-be-Done, I highly recommend any listener to take an arrow and dive deep into this. I know there’s a lot of literature that exists right there but a lot of it is actually related to physical products. Jobs-to-be-Done was pioneered in the manufacturing industry, not in software industry.
I think if you work in a software company, it can be tricky to figure out how some of the stuff relates to your products so what we try to do is take the Jobs-to-be-Done framework as it imply to manufacturing companies and try and translate that to see how that can apply to software companies.
Nathan: With all that content you’re creating, how do you come up with those unique content ideas? Jobs-to-be-Done is one of those things. How do you guys decide actually what to write?
Geoffrey: There are four main buckets that we draw our content from. We touched on earlier, repurposed content is a big one so we also have a big world tour that have a number of talks that we can draw. Our employees are speaking at conferences every week so we can draw on them as well. Repurposed content is like one bucket that we draw from.
Again, another one we touched on earlier is our data driven pieces, whether it’s subject lines or best time to send a message. If you have a product like CoSchedule or Intercom, it’s likely that you have a deep well of stories to draw from there. In practical terms, if I was to point out someone who’s doing this really well, it would be Priceonomics. They’re one of my favourite companies.
They have amazing products and they actually publish content that is actually in no way related to their products. They have just amazing stories. It could be simple stuff like what are the most number of parking fines in America. Just data driven stories that they deep dive into and they just publish great content from.
I guess the third one that we draw from is probably case studies from across the company. People in Intercom are shipping amazing work every week. They’re always running into unique engineering challenges that went well. A lot of the time, they don’t go well, which is even better. They’re actually usually better stories that we can publish.
I think it comes back to what our employees learned or done that will help potential customers do their job better as well because I think the challenges that we run into are probably challenges that other companies are facing as well. I think the more we can share what we’ve learned, the more readers can relate to it as well.
The final bucket we draw from is really just what’s happening in the industry. Obviously, companies like Intercom, we’re playing in lots of different fields but there’s also trends like AI, machine learning, messaging bots. There are just all these different trends that are going to impact Intercom and our customers in countless ways. We just try and pay attention to these sort of tectonic shifts that are happening in the industry. As an editor, it’s our job to figure out what are the stories we can tell and how our readers will actually end up being affected by this.
They’re really the main four buckets that we draw from.
Nathan: Sounds really smart. We’ve got these buckets. We’re coming up with tons of ideas. What does your process look like for actually prioritizing those things? What do you do first once you have these ideas?
Geoffrey: We don’t have a super rigorous process of prioritization. I think the most important thing for any business is to keep that balance between those four categories that I was referring to. If we end up publishing five posts a week of repurposed content, I think we end up losing readers pretty quickly. It’s really, really important that we have a balance across the editorial team of what we’re publishing.
In terms of prioritizing, we usually take half an hour every Friday for editorial meeting. We all just throw up ideas that have been submitted to us and we’ll narrow it down from there. That’s our main prioritization time for the week.
Nathan: Geoffrey, just one more question for you. You guys are obviously just crushing it with content at Intercom, doing an awesome job. For someone who’s new to this or someone who doesn’t know, what’s your best advice for marketers out there who are just never satisfied with status quo? What would you tell them?
Geoffrey: The single probably best piece of advice I’d give to anyone is to have an opinion in the content they produce. If you look at most content marketing and landing page copy, I think a lot of it just borders on the inoffensive, bland. It doesn’t really take a stand. It doesn’t really tell you who it’s really for. I think they try to appeal to everyone and they end up appealing to nobody.
I think this is really true with opinions as well. Those on the extreme right or left, or those that are the most [00:21:03] or that at least are the most interesting that really end up getting the most traffic to their sites. I think a lot of companies end up aiming for the center and end up falling flat. I think aiming for the center, you lack the passion to get that same sort of traffic.
My main advice for anyone working content marketing or starting at a content team is make sure that you have a really, really clear opinion about the world.
Nathan: Geoffrey, that’s really great advice and a great place to end this. I just want to say thanks so much for being on the podcast.
Geoffrey: Thank you so much, Nathan. It was a blast.
June 27, 2017
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