How to Optimize Your Content Marketing Strategy With Len Markidan From Groove HQ

Content marketing is an essential to today’s start-up business. It is how you and your company find your voice in a sea of similar and perhaps larger companies. But, what do you do when your online content isn’t getting the attention you need? How do you create the content that is going to get your business results? How can you make content marketing work for you and your business?

Len Markidan, the guy in charge of Groove HQ’s marketing department has some basic tips to improve your content. Groove HQ got its start six years ago, but the path to success was rocky.  Len and his team tried numerous types and styles of content for their blog, but nothing was working. So the team did their homework, they looked at companies like Kissmetrics and Unbounce, then they reached out to the companies. Their outreach was a big help. What they learned from the process became invaluable.

Groove HQ found an audience with their blog A Startup’s Journey to $100,000 in Monthly Revenue. If you are having trouble with your content marketing, then Len can help you get a better perspective on the situation.

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Highlights from this episode include:

  • Groove HQ’s rough start and how Len and his team found the problems.
  • Why the best story to tell, is your story.
  • The winning framework Len uses to create Groove HQ’s content.
  • How your audience can help you find the right content.
  • The best method to create content with a team.

If you liked today’s show, please subscribe on iTunes to The Actionable Content Marketing Podcast! The podcast is also available on SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Google Play.

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Transcript:

How do you move from creating content nobody cares about to the stuff people can’t wait to consume? Can content actually generate positive ROI and even become a lifeline if your company is in a cash crunch, or should you change your entire approach to content marketing altogether? The answers to these questions and more, we talked with Len Markidan who runs marketing at Groove HQ, a help desk software company with world class content marketing results. Now, let’s get into Nathan’s conversation with Len to find out.

Nathan: Alright Len, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.

Len: Thanks for having me, it’s an honor.

Nathan: It’s an honor to have you. I know we were talking before we got on the show, but at CoSchedule, we’ve been looking up to what you guys have been doing at Groove for a long time as far as marketing goes and how you guys are developing your software. I guess just to kick this off, could you tell me a little bit about Groove and what you do there?

Len: Sure thing. Groove is a software company. We sell a tool that makes it easier for teams to manage customer support emails. We also help businesses succeed at content marketing with a blog, and also a program that we sell called Content Marketing Mastery. I run the marketing team there.

Nathan: To get started, those two things seem really interestingly different. You do content marketing and you do support sort of things. Could you tell me that story? Groove has a really interesting story with the early content that you were publishing. Could you share that with me?

Len: Sure. You’re right, the early story is the reason that we do both of those things today. When we first launched the company, this is six years ago now, we weren’t doing very well. We had a product, but we didn’t really have a thoughtful or effective marketing strategy at all. We thought we were doing content marketing, but really what we were doing is publishing posts like Five Great Things About Our Helpdesk. You’ve seen this kind of content, the kind that just absolutely nobody cares to read about. Obviously, this wasn’t succeeding. We were looking around, we were looking at HubSpot, we were looking at Unbounce, we were looking at Kiss Metrics, we were looking at all of these SaaS companies that were absolutely killing it with content marketing.

We were thinking why are we not getting the same results? Why can’t we do that? What is going on? We actually did it that way, we started emailing those people. We started emailing the marketers at HubSpot and at Unbounce and Kissmetrics, the companies that seemed to be doing really well, started to ask questions. We tried to learn everything that we possibly could about what they were doing. People were really happy to talk to us, actually, it’s kind of surprising the team over the last six years, asking for advice and just trying to learn from people who are a few steps ahead of us. People will be helpful if you ask them, for the most part.

What we learned from that process was that there was just so much more to content marketing success that’s underneath the surface than we had realized. Deep, deep audience research. Sophisticated content strategies. Promotion campaigns that went far, far, far beyond the scope of anything that we had even considered. We kind of thought wow, we’ve been doing it all wrong. At that point, we went back on drawing board. At this point, we’re probably six months or so from our zero cash day. We were running out of money, we hadn’t found any traction. At this point, we took a bit of a risk.

We just went back to the drawing board. For three or four months, we developed what would become our new blog. That new blog, we launched a new blog in 2011, end of 2011. It was called A Startup’s Journey to $100,000 in Monthly Revenue. It was essentially exactly that. It was our story of how we, as a startup, had hoped to get to $100,000 in monthly revenue. The tag line that we used at the very bottom of every post, it was “From A-ha to Oh Shit, we’re sharing everything we learn on our journey from 0 to $100,000 in monthly revenue. We’re learning a lot, and so will you.”

What we promised was to be transparent, to share our wins, our fails, everything that we went through. We thought hey, maybe people aren’t reading our content about our product or about customer service quite yet. You know what would be interesting? There’s not really anybody talking about how to solve the problems that we’re going through. If we’re going after small businesses, SMBs, they’re probably going through many of the same problems that we are. Why don’t we just write about our own experiences? We’ll launch this, this time you’re using everything that we had learned over the past few months. Within 24 hours, we had thousands of subscribers. We were floored. Within a week, we had 5,000 subscribers. Today, the blog is the primary driver of growth for our business. Over time, we’ve had to change it from journey to $100,000 a month to journey to $500,000, and now it’s journey to $10 million a year.

Nathan: What’s interesting there is you’re targeting that different audience. Why do you think a pivot like that, or telling your own story, has been so successful?

Len: I think there are a couple of things in play here. The first reason is because we finally did it correctly. There’s what I call checkbox content which is let’s say you’re a marketing director and your CMO says, “Hey, we need to do content marketing. I hear content marketing is a hot way to do that.” You have 14 other things on your plate, so you say okay, I’m going to do content marketing. You go out, you hire a content farm, you put out this content that is just okay. You’ve checked the box, okay, we’re doing content marketing.

Of course you’re not going to see results from that, and that’s what we were doing. We were just putting up things without a whole ton of thought, putting a blog post, hitting publish, and the story ended there. That checked the box of we’re doing content marketing, but we weren’t doing it well.

That was one of the biggest reasons for the shift. We had applied everything that we had learned and one of the things that we learned is that your content does have to be extraordinary, it does have to stand out. That’s how we went from checkbox content to extraordinary content.

Nathan: How would you recommend other businesses to rethink their blog like you guys? Was there a framework you followed when you started doing this?

Len: Yeah. There was a loosely jumbled together framework that we followed backward. Over the years, as we’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours thinking about this, we developed our own framework for why we think the blog was successful in the early days, and then how we’ve been able to double down on that success. The framework is really, really simple. It’s going to sound simplistic but it’s really, really powerful. I haven’t seen it fail yet.

The framework is this. Your content needs to be relevant, actionable, and unique. That’s three things.

Relevant; are you solving a problem that the reader actually has? Or are you writing for yourself? A lot of companies do this. We assume that our customers are like us, when very often that’s not the case at all. The best way to solve for this is you talk to your customers and you ask them, what are the challenges that keep you up at night? What are the problems that you have that need solving? What are the different ways you’ve tried to solve those problems and why do you think that’s failed? That makes your content relevant if you can write about those challenges.

The second piece is actionable. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Can they immediately do something with that content to get value, even if it’s a small bit of value? If there’s something that you can show them that they can instantly cash in for value, whether it’s to stoke a pleasure point that they have or to address a pain point that they have.

Finally, the unique part of it. This one trips a lot of people up. Your content topics don’t have to be unique. In fact, if nobody has ever written about the things that you’re writing about, it just might not be relevant. But the way that you write about it should be unique, I’ll explain with an example that I think makes this pretty clear.

Think about this. Productivity has been a problem for people for many, many years. Maybe hundreds of years even. And yet today, and every year for the last however many years, there has been a different productivity book that has been on the bestseller list. Whether it’s getting things done, eat that frog, there’s productivity strategies and books that come out every single year that do really, really well. The topic isn’t new, but every book that’s successful delivers a new perspective, the perspective is usually new. That perspective is what gets their audience excited.

We weren’t the first people to write about startup growth, we definitely weren’t the first people to write about entrepreneurship or any of these things or content marketing. The perspective was unique, and that felt different to our readers. Anybody can copy that.

That’s the framework. Relevant, Actionable, Unique.

Nathan: I love that. Something that I’ve been thinking about is if you hadn’t tested this idea, if you just kept publishing that status quo content, you would’ve never known that something like this could be successful. I’m kind of wondering what other content or projects have you guys experimented with that might be similar to this?

Len: There have been lots. I would say our content marketing course, a couple of other blog initiatives, some that still exist and are thriving and some that have completely failed and that we shuttered. For example, we have a Customer Service blog now that’s just as popular as the startup blog. When we first launched it, it must’ve been four years ago now, it looked very different than it does today. We launched it as an academy. We had this series of mini lessons, and we made it very academically focused rather than the long form blog style that we have now. That totally flopped. It just didn’t work, but we just kept trying different things. Now, we have a Customer Service blog that’s doing very well.

Nathan: You still publish content that helps businesses support customers in addition to what you’ve been doing with the Startup Journey. That definitely seems like it’s two different audiences. How do you manage both sides of your content or your story that way?

Len: That’s a great question. If you’re going to publish for multiple audiences like the customer support blog is for people who want to get better at customer support, and the Startup Journey blog is more targeted towards founders, small businesses, and people that are in charge of growth functions in the business. If you’re going to publish for multiple audiences, treat each one individually and do the hard work for both. Audience research, serving and understanding your audience, being really thoughtful about your content strategy, applying the relevant, actionable, and unique framework, spending a ton of time on each piece of content, spending a ton of time promoting each piece of content.

You have to give each blog enough oxygen and attention to succeed, otherwise it’s going to be a very obvious in your results which one you’re treating as a secondary blog. You see that all the time with businesses that are writing for two different audiences, and really the only way to make it succeed is to do the hard work for both of them.

Nathan: Specifically at Groove, you’re targeting founders and those doers. Why is that important for you guys to serve both those audiences?

Len: The Customer Service blog is designed to get people that are at support. If you get really good at customer service, then you get excited about customer service. Because we were the ones that helped to get better at it, you trust us and you trust us enough maybe to try the product that we’ve built to make you even better at customer service. But not every business is thinking of customer service as this huge ROI opportunity quite yet. We believe, though, that given enough time, every growing business can probably realize the power of investing in amazing support.

The support blog is very much targeted at folks towards the middle of our funnel, people who we can already offer our support software to. The Startup Journey blog, that’s written for way up the top of the funnel. You don’t have to be thinking about support yet to get value out of the startup journey blog, but it’s built on this hypothesis that if we can deliver enough value to you and help you grow your business, then when you grow into a position when you’re ready to think more seriously about support, we’re going to be the first name to come to mind because we already have a relationship, you already have a relationship with Groove.

That’s not a strategy that necessarily will work for everyone, but if your business is like customer support, that means if it addresses something that a very large part of your market will eventually and invariably need to think about because they’re going to grow into that phase, then you can consider using your content marketing to build those relationships ahead of time by delivering value to the market essentially before they even become your market.

Nathan: Let’s just dive a little bit deeper into that. Judging from what I’ve seen, you guys are publishing tons and tons of content. You’ve got these two different blogs, probably a lot of other things going on. How much do you guys publish in a given week?

Len: We publish three times a week.  We publish one Customer Service post a week, we publish one Startup Journey post a week. We have a Friday Q&A post that we publish where we answer questions from folks who leave comments or email us questions. It tends to straddle the support and Startup Journey.

Nathan: Coming up with all those ideas, what’s your process for generating them?

Len: I think the best way to come up with really, really good content ideas is to pull it out of your audience. That’s what we try to do. Talk to your audience, find out their challenges, find out what they’re thinking about. And then we write about that. It’s really as simple as that. We build that data collection into a lot of the processes that we have.

For example, whenever somebody subscribes to our email list, the first automated email in that sequence will say, “Hey, welcome to our list, thanks so much for joining, we work really, really hard to make every piece of content valuable to you and we hope that you find it all useful. Just one quick question, what made you sign up? What were you hoping to get out of this? What were you hoping to get out of our blog?” The responses that we get to that question are really, really valuable.

People will tell you the specific reason they sign up. Whether it’s, “Hey, we really, really loved your post on marketing, we really loved the specific post with email templates, or I was hoping to find a resource to help me improve this particular metric, or I love all the content that you guys write about remote work and that’s interesting to me. We get a really good sense of the pulse of what our subscribers are actually interested in and we can write based on that.

Nathan: I love that example. It sounds like you’re finding all of these ideas, you’re publishing a lot of content in a given week, how big is the team that helps you create that much?

Len: There are three of us. It’s myself, it’s Alex our CEO, and then as of two months ago we had another content marketers, Ellen, who’s been doing a great job helping us. We also have a designer who works on the blog part-time.

Nathan: I think that’s awesome because it’s a small team that’s creating a lot of quality content. Team size has nothing to do with what you guys are uploading.

Len: Thank you very much.

Nathan: Something that’s also interesting about Groove that I just wanted to pick your brain on is that you guys are pretty much all a remote team as far as I know. What might be some of your best advice for collaborating with a remote team?

Len: I talk a lot about this with other remote content teams. I know it’s something that’s a very unique challenge to remote teams, it’s something that hurts a lot of small teams. I think the three things that helped us become successful at this would be hire amazing senior people that you can just trust to do really, really well autonomously, document things just enough so that you know who’s working on what and that you’re not going to be colliding with each other, working on the same things. And then get out of the way.

Collaboration and communication are super, super important. I think that too many remote teams over correct in the wrong direction here by planning multiple daily calls and just adding a bunch of friction to the process because they’re so afraid of work not getting done, or they’re afraid of something slipping through the cracks. Adding those unnecessary processes can really, really get in the way of productivity. Hire people that you can trust, pick a tool that you trust and just keep everybody on the same page, and then back off.

Nathan: I think that’s awesome advice. Just to wrap this up, Len, I’m wondering what’s your best advice for someone who’s not getting the results that they want from their current content marketing efforts? What should they do?

Len: If you’re not getting the results that you want, you have to look at where the chain breaks down. Are you publishing content but not getting any traffic? There’s probably something wrong with your promotion strategy. If you Google Groove Plus 1,000 subscribers, we have a post where we talked about this exactly. There’s email scripts and everything that you can use to promote your blog content. If you’re not getting traffic, that would help.

Are you getting traffic but it’s bouncing? They’re not reading your content? Then your content probably is an issue. You have to think back to the relevant, actionably unique framework and try to apply that a little bit better. Are you getting full page reads? Are you getting people to read your content but not getting enough email subscribers? In that case, consider better opt-in offers. Definitely consider content upgrades.

I’ll give you one example. On most of the content that we have, we have some opt-in offer where we try to get people to subscribe. Sometimes, the general offers, let’s just say something like subscribe to get our weekly emails. If you’re doing well, you might be hovering in the 2% to 3% range, maybe 4% or 5%. At least that’s what we found in our blog.

When we started playing a couple of years ago with much more targeted content upgrades, to give you one example, we had a post with 17 email scripts that you can use to grow your business. The scripts were great, they were helpful, they were everything from recruiting to managing, to negotiating, to communicating with customers. The scripts were images, they were screenshots of the scripts in GMail. You could get inspired by them or you can get ideas from them, but you couldn’t copy and paste them. The offer that we made on that post was grab a free PDF that has all of these scripts plus a few bonus ones that you can copy and paste. Like I said, the baseline for us is around 4% or so.

That opt-in form converted at 22%, it still does. Over a fifth of the people who read that post will sign up for the email. Definitely play with that sort of thing if you’re having issues with email subscribers. If you’re getting email subscribers but not customers, experiment with your emails. Don’t be afraid to break anything, play around with different nudges, and see how you can better turn email subscribers into customers.

The last thing I’ll say about improving content results, all of the things that we’ve talked about here, the content strategy, the promotion strategy, the email strategy, that’s what our course Content Marketing Mastery goes really, really deep on. This is not something for everybody, I’m not trying to sell everybody in this. Most people doing content can just make massive gains with the free stuff that’s out there. Reading CoSchedule’s blog, listening to the other episodes of this podcast, reading Groove’s blog. There are a lot of really, really good resources out there.

But if you’re already investing in content marketing and you want to level up your content, level up your team, level up your content process, just get better results in about six weeks, then check it out. I wasn’t planning on doing this, but I would love to do a special offer for CoSchedule listeners. We’ll put it up at groovehq.com/coschedule. You can apply for the course there. As a thank you for listening, we’ll hook you up. Otherwise, I hope these tips would help. This was a lot of fun.

Nathan: With that, I just wanna say thanks again for being on the podcast, really appreciate it.

Len: Sure thing.