“In 1997, I co-founded a website called ClickZ,.com and suddenly found my self in the world of marketing, specifically marketing content. I was the president and the editor-in-chief there, and ultimately became chief content officer there. And that was just my indoctrination into marketing, essentially. So I kind of came at it sideways. First, I came up through the publishing world, creating content that marketers would love. Later, I did it at MarketingProfs which led me into this whole content marketing space, before, it was really called content marketing.”
“Since Content Rules was published, I think that an overwhelming number of businesses have adopted that content-centric marketing mindset, and which is a great thing. But a lot of businesses are still not on board. A lot of them are not doing content particularly well. So as much as I think the world has evolved in some ways and some ways I think content remains a challenge for a lot of companies.”
“The words you use really are carrying your messages to the people you’re trying to reach. Yes, you could say that in the age video and podcast like this one that your words matter less but I bet James you’re going to write a blog post that’s going to introduce this podcast and share it with your listeners. You’ll tweet it out on Twitter as with I will put it on Facebook the whole thing. That’s all words. And I want people to really be very intentional with the words that they’re using. Maybe that’s a little bit aspirational but I think words have tremendous power and I don’t think that we are really recognizing that as marketers, as people. I hope that this book will give you some kind of the necessary pep talk to make you a more valuable and ridiculously proud writer.”
“I get a lot of value out of, social media. And I don’t understand it when my friends typically those that are in a non-marketing space, will say to me, I don’t understand Twitter. What do you get out of it? I was like, man, I get so much out of it. I mean, to me, it’s not just a water cooler. It’s a real learning tool. So I get a lot of value out of just going into Twitter and seeing what people are talking about and not talking myself necessarily but doing a lot of listening. It’s a real, I don’t know, digital discovery channel for me.”
James: All right, welcome back my friends to yet another edition of the Big Value Big Business podcast. I am your host, James Lynch. I am really big, big, big time super excited about my very special guest today. Her name is Ann Handley.Ann is an evangelist on a mission to help us all to rethink the way we go to the market with our businesses. Ann has been tapped by Forbes magazine as one of the most influential women in social media and she is also recognized by Forbes Women as one of the top 20 women bloggers. Ann is the chief content officer at marketingprofs.com where they offer real world education for the modern marketer through training, best practices, research and a ton of great content.Ann is also a monthly columnist for the Entrepreneur magazine and a member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program as well as last but not the least, the co-author of the best selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. It’s both a pleasure and a privilege to welcome Ann Handley to the Big Value Big Business podcast. Ann, how the heck are you today?Ann: Wow, I’m great, James. How are you doing today?
James: I’m out of breath but I will recover. I took a combination of the suggested bio from certain areas and tried to put a little spin on it but so much for people that don’t know you which I don’t think there are a whole lot of people that don’t know you but I want them to know all about you.
Ann: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you very much.
James: Cool. Again, I thank you. And I just want to mention, a little inspiration for having you on the podcast because I saw something in your book, Content Rules, and among all the great advice in there, this spoke to me recently, and it answers the question like what to talk about when there’s nothing to say? And you recommend or your book recommends interview luminaries, conduct…
Ann: Yeah and here I am. That’s awesome.
James: I now conduct Q&A interviews with thought leaders, strategic partners or flat out interesting creative thinkers and this makes for compelling text, audio and video content. Here you are.
Ann: All right! Well, good. I’m glad I was an inspiration to you and I guess that’s good for me too, right?
James: Absolutely. Thanks. I’m really excited to like get a little bit about your journey and becoming a major thought leader in the world of content marketing and… now, helping folks, just really rethink and communicate their marketing message. So let’s go. Let’s hear a little bit about Ann Handley and where you came from, your humble beginnings and get an idea of your journey that brought you here to where you are today.
Ann: Sure, sure. You want me to start rambling.
James: Absolutely. Jack in the box and all, okay. Don’t leave anything out.
Ann: Wow, you did your research. Yeah, actually that was my first job, working in the window at Jack in the Box. That was indeed a humble beginning. But no, my professionally, my first job was working as a journalist. I come out of the journalism world. I was a stringer first for a b2b publication here in Boston for the banker and tradesmen who I wrote about banking and real estate trends. At a kind of a very rudimentary level since I didn’t know a whole lot of either one of those but I did come out of the journalism school, out of a journalism background and so. I always wanted to just write and create content for audiences essentially.
So from there, I went to the Boston Globe. I worked for there for a long time. I worked for a lot of other publications both b2b and b2c. I wrote for the magazines that were in the back of airline pockets for a while. And in 1997, I co-founded a website called ClickZ,.com and suddenly found my self in the world of marketing, specifically marketing content. I was the president and the editor-in-chief there, ultimately became chief content officer there. And that was just my indoctrination into marketing, essentially. So I kind of came at it sideways. First, I came up through the publishing world, creating content that marketers would love. Later, I did it at MarketingProfs and now led me into this whole content marketing space. Before, it was really called content marketing.
James: Yeah, and it sure has evolved though the last couple of years especially since your book came out. Was that around in 2010?
Ann: Yeah, yeah. Actually it was. It was late 2009, I think it was 2010 was when C.C. Chapman, my wonderful co-author and I published that with Wiley. And it’s become the best selling book on content marketing. I still see a lot of people reading it. At some point, we’re probably going to have to update that because I know there’s a couple things in there that are outdated. But frankly, not a lot because we wrote that book as an evergreen approach to how to create content that your audiences will love. And so some of the tools changed and those are, the part that needs updating. But it’s such a tiny part, I think that ultimately what makes for good content. So it’s a very fresh and relevant book even if it was published in 2010.
James: No, yeah. Absolutely, I definitely wasn’t dating it because it’s not so much, we learned when we start out in the, if we start at the right way. It’s not so much the technology, the techniques, the strategies is by getting down to the actual content and flushing it out, identifying our folks and, you know the drill.
Ann: Yeah. I know, absolutely. I mean I think in the four years since Content Rules was published, I think that an overwhelming number of businesses have adopted that content-centric marketing mindset, and which is a great thing. But a lot of businesses are still not on board. A lot of them are not doing content particularly well. So as much as I think the world has evolved in some ways and some ways I think content remains a challenge for a lot of companies.
James: It definitely does. And I like to go back to my roots in the Big Value. Big Value content educational, making our consumers just better or our prospects and customers better consumers of our products and services…
Ann: Yeah, and I think the biggest takeaway from my journalism background is something that I talk about on stage all the time, and how it relates now to marketing content which is create content that your customers will thank you for. What will your customers love? What can you help them with? How can you help explain the world little better? How can you help enlighten them? Shoulder their burdens, all that stuff, I think that’s what journalists do, just by explain the issues at hand. And I think if you can port some of that mentality, if you can create content your customers will thank you for over into the world of marketing what I think, just start there. That’s just a really good place to start.
James: Yeah, I want to expand that a little bit. I’ve heard you say before to talk about the content equation empathy times inspiration times youtility, can you expand on that a little bit?
Ann: Yeah, yeah. So what you’re referring to is something again that I talk about frequently which is how I think about the equation that I think about that will produce the best content, and it’s empathy times inspiration times utility. So essentially, just to walk you through that, so empathy means creating content that your customers will thank you for with a real customer-centric mindset. I think a lot of marketers, a lot of companies say that they have a customer-centric mindset. But very often, they don’t. So I’m saying create content that your customers need that they want, that they will like, that they will thank you for.
The second thing is inspiration whether it’s inspired by data, something you know about your customers or whether it’s creatively inspired or maybe a little of both. There always has to be some spark of inspiration behind the content they’re creating. As I talk about frequently too, you don’t love what you’re creating, you don’t think it’s really awesome then your customers won’t either. So someone has to really care on the marketing side. The creator has to really care what they’re putting out there because I think it’s palpable. From a reader’s perspective, from a end-user’s perspective, from a customer’s perspective, they always can tell whether you’re caring or not. I mean you know, right? I’m sure you have these experiences with customers.
James: Oh yeah.
Ann: Yeah, I mean we all have. And the last thing is youtility. Creating content that is very useful to your customers that helps them do something even if it’s only to make a decision. My friend, Jay Baer talks a lot about his book named YOUtility with a Y-O-U. And he talks a lot about help, giving something or giving your customers something that they can do with their contents. Some of that could be a marketing, I mean sorry, some sort of app. It could be anything. But at the same time, I also think it applies to e-books or a simple blog posts. How to blog post, how is YOUtility. So being very clear that you always want to be useful to the people you’re trying to talk to.
James: Yeah, absolutely, actionable content. Yeah, definitely, I totally agree. Talking about the difference between corporate marketing and journalistic marketing and journalistic communication, it’s ironic, I work in an agency now as a fulltime day job but I see these walls that are just coming down as the team’s join forces social media with the copywriters, as SEO team and even my guys, the Pay Per Click, the ad words guys, they’re all collaborating because it’s so important and people are just realizing even at the agency level that it’s about the customer in getting the message to the customer and what the customer needs to hear.
Ann: Yeah. That’s fantastic. Yeah, I also think, I mean you mentioned publishing and I think increasingly, we are adopting a lot of those sort of rules of publishing if you will into our organizations and that makes me really happy because I think it’s really important to understand what the rules of journalism are as relates to content marketing.
So things like, for example rooting out opposing viewpoints and something that the journalists are trained to do that they do routinely is something that I think is really valuable in content but we don’t necessarily do that. My friend (inaudible10.45) has a great quote. He says, there’s a name for something with a single point of view, it’s called a press release. So I think incorporating multiple perspectives when an issue lends itself to that, I think it’s a really, really powerful way to really get out of that corporate-centric point of view and then into your customer-centric point of view.
James: Totally agree, and not only that instead of releasing a press release when you have alternative point of view in any piece of content, you’re going to have different sides. And that opens the engagement, the communication and you should start the whole thing out.
Ann: Yeah, yeah. Exactly yeah, I think that make sense. Another thing that I talk about frequently too is create content that your customer will love before, or please your customer with your content before you please your CEO or your boss or your client. And I think that sounds kind of counter intuitive sometimes, don’t you want to make your boss or your client happy?
Yes, but if your customer loves it, I mean sorry, if your CEO loves it then your customer might not. But the inverse is true where if the customer loves it then your boss or CEO will by default love it. So I think it’s really again, another reason why it’s really important to think first about your customer, first. Have enormous empathy. Give your customers gifts. All the things that I think are really important to do when you’re creating content for them.
James: Yeah, and I have, don’t hate on me. I’m going to go back to something else you said but, what would you write if the customer signed you check?
Ann: Yeah, exactly. Some people in the audience, sometimes when I say that from stage people in the audience will tweet and will say, well that’s already something that we do. They do, they do literally. And if it’s like if that is your point of view then that’s awesome because you’re way ahead where a lot of people are, so. But I think that is a hard thing to, for some marketers to understand, because literally your boss signs your pay check not your customer.
James: Yeah, but who’s signing his check? Who’s putting into the bottom line there?
Ann: Right, right, exactly. And that’s exactly the point right there.
James: Yeah I love it, I love it. So let’s shift gears just a little bit. Are you allowed to talk about your new book?
Ann: My new book, yeah. Well, we you know we postponed this interview because I told you I was heads down in writing and I had to finish it. But one of the things I’ve realized, I mean writing a book is like birthing a Volkswagen.
James: I’ll pass!
Ann: Really, really hard. And it’s not deeply pleasant. So I am not done yet but I’m getting closer and there’s lot of momentum behind it, so. I mean I love writing, I am a writer by nature I guess and so I really, I love this book but at the same time it’s just a lot of work, so. And this is a busy season for conferences so I’m not quite as far along as I’d like to be.
But the book that I’m writing is called, Everybody Writes. And essentially it’s the book that, the idea behind the book is that, there a lot of books out there about writing. But there’s not many books out there that are really written for a marketing audience. So its part writing guide.
Its part a manual on some of the ground rules for content, for good and reputable content in particular like those journalism rules I was just telling about. And then part of it is just straight talk on some processes and habits to produce really great writing. I feel like that the conversation that’s lost a little bit in this content marketing ground swell that we’re all in the midst of is the fact that your words are your proxy.
Your words matter. The words you use really are carrying your messages to the people you’re trying to reach. Yes, you could say that in the age video and podcast like this one that your words matter less but I bet James you’re going to write a blog post that’s going to introduce this podcast and share it with your listeners. You’ll tweet it out on Twitter as with I will put it on Facebook the whole thing.
That’s all words. And I want people really be very intentional with the words that they’re using. Maybe that’s a little bit aspirational but I think words have tremendous power and I don’t think that we are really recognizing that as marketers, as people.
James: I loved that in, because you come from such a strong journalistic background and you’ll be able to, I mean we all know that the marketers need this education and you are the proof that it can be more successful when you embrace both the journalist and the marketing mindset.
Ann: Yeah, yeah and also, not just the journalist mindset but the writing mindset. I mean I think a lot of people self identify as that they are not writers, I’m not a writer, I can’t do that. But I think in this world of social media, in this world where everyone is a publisher, it also means that we are all writers. That’s the other piece of it, so. I think that people are capable whoever they are capable of being a good writer. So if you self identify as not being a writer or a terrible writer or you were scarred in childhood by some teacher who told you that you couldn’t write. I’ve heard a lot of those stories that I hope that this book will give you some kind of the necessary pep talk to make you a more valuable and ridiculously proud writer.
James: I love it. Ridiculously proud, I love it. When is the due date?
Ann: Well I think we’re targeting end of August at this point.
James: Beautiful, beautiful.
Ann: But we’ll have to let you know about that one because I’m a little bit behind.
James: That’s okay. Speaking of being behind, tell us about what you’ve been doing. You’ve been travelling all over the world, your speaking in all different conferences in all different countries. What’s going on?
Ann: Yeah. Yeah. I have been doing a fair amount of travel. This year I’ve been to, gosh, is it this year or last year. It’s so funny how things run together. No, this is only April. I’ve only been State side this year so far but last fall I was in Istanbul for the second time talking to marketing audience there. I was in Croatia which was an amazing place I don’t know if you’ve ever been.
James: No, but tell us, tell us.
Ann: Put that on your list. It’s a tremendous place and really just a wonderful, just one of the few, one of the least unspoiled places I’ve ever been in terms of commercialism. So it was just a really amazing experience. I was in Denmark and outside of Copenhagen which I met some really wonderful people there became my really good friends.
And so I’m hopefully going to go back there this fall. And then locally I just was at the Marketo event last week, really fantastic. I saw Hillary Clinton there. I was joking that I opened for Hillary. Even though I was booked in this tiny room conpared to her giant ball room. I didn’t get all 6,000 people in my audience but that’s okay, technically the same audience, so…
James: That’s awesome.
Ann: Yeah, so that was fun they put out a really good event. It was a really wonderful.
James: Wow, congratulations on your success. I mean it’s so deserved, you worked so hard. And it’s just, your reputation is just so out there. I’m just honored to have you on the podcast. So tell me a little bit about yourself personally not to get too detailed rituals like productivity accountability, you have it together. And with the travelling and the speaking and the writing, day to day what keeps you moving towards your goals?
Ann: Yeah, that’s a good one. I’m a terrible procrastinator. I Copy Blogger an a great Q&A with me, proud of the favorite Q&A I have ever done. And they really got to some of these issues where I confess, I’m just a terrible procrastinator. I would do anything aside from sitting down to do a really big project. No, not necessarily writing about a lot of times because I do so much writing.
A lot of times it is a writing or project but I do things like, change the oil in my car and decide I’m going to make something really complicated for dinner, descale the coffee maker I mean anything that’ll just postpone the inevitable sitting down and doing something that’s really hard. But ultimately as much as I procrastinate, my work ethics saves me and that ultimately is what gets me to the finish line.
So the only productivity I have is that when I’m having a really hard time starting a large project. I have my little dog here. She’s actually looking at me right now. I love her and I take her out for a walk and it really helps clear my head then I decide on my walk my first line is that I’m going to write when I get home and that’s usually the thing that’ll kick start me into a project. So yeah, that’s my only trick which isn’t even much of a trick it’s just a habit, I guess.
James: That’s a good habit to have. And you sound like you’re white knuckle that you just kind of get down to it when you have to get down to it.
Ann: I do. It’s like no matter how much time I build into anything. I don’t know if you’re like this too. But, no matter how much time I do, I always white knuckle it, always. And I mean, I’ve got a couple of kids and I’ve got a family life and I work out of my house and so I’m also working around them and their schedules and the noise factor in the house and all that kind of stuff. I mean the same stuff that anybody else deals with. But because MarketingProfs is a virtual company, I feel it a little bit more intently because we don’t have an office that I can escape to. They really in work, I’m talking to right now from my kitchen.
James L: Awesome. I love it. Well, that’s the luxury of working virtually too. We can be creative but we can get distracted.
Ann: Yes. It’s so true.
James: Cool. Just to go down, just a list that I like to ask the most successful people that I talk to, and you are one of those. Business resources do you belong to a Mastermind or podcast or you meet with anybody in regular basis? Do you have any favorite books on the, just to get you moving?
Ann: Yeah, that’s really good. I don’t, I mean I look at all the marketing news and all the top vendors in our space are actually putting out some really good content, anything related to marketing and content is something that I’m constantly looking for. But I do a lot of sort of listening on Twitter. I do a lot of kind of what I call social prospecting there where I’ll find really interesting voices to listen to just by or read whatever the case maybe, just to help and help inform my own brain, basically. Just by stumbling across things on Twitter, just by seeing what people are talking about and who’s saying something interesting in various subjects.
So, I mean, social media, I get a lot of value out of, social media. And I don’t understand it when my friends typically those that are in a non-marketing space, will say to me, I don’t understand Twitter. What do you get out of it? I was like, man, I get so much out of it. I mean, to me, it’s not just a water cooler. It’s a real learning tool. So I get a lot of value out of just going into Twitter and seeing what people are talking about and not talking myself necessarily but doing a lot of listening.
James: Yeah. I have to agree, kicking and screaming, I just started, when I started the podcast. Building my Twitter presence, if you…
Ann: Oh, did you?
James: It’s awesome. There’s so many people and the people are so great. And I often, I find myself kind of not, trying to get out of the digital marketing space too sometimes just to kind of see what everybody else is doing and to get, I mean there so much depth out there, artists and musicians and yeah, it’s a great place in listening rather than speaking, is so valuable.
Ann: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I mean like you just said. It’s a real, I don’t know, digital discovery channel for me. And I got a lot of it by just showing up there every day and I’ve been on Twitter for a long time now. I think six-and-a-half years, something like that, almost seven years in August, I think. And I have a pretty large following on there. So sometimes, I can just talk to the people who are like you said, in my marketing world, and part of the reason why I started the Ann Handley Twitter feed, the Twitter account that I have separate from MarketingProfs which is my main Twitter account. It’s just because I wanted a little bit more freedom to communicate and follow different kinds of people and just sort of feel what is like to not be representing a brand on there. So it’s been an interesting experiment but I love Twitter whether on the MarketingProfs side or in the Ann Handley side. And there’s, believe me there’s been diagrams, and a lot of overlap between the two. But I just, I get a lot of value out of it.
James: Cool. That’s good to know. I remember like what does, I heard Seth go and say one time, it was, once you get into Twitter, in a business kind of way especially somebody like you or him, it can get like a playing tennis with like a hundred people, a hundred or so people. So it gets, I could definitely see the listening portion rather than the putting out there because it really could get hammered pretty good.
Ann: Yeah. No, you totally get it. I mean it’s a challenge for me in a MarketingProfs side. I tried to respond to anybody who’s tweeting directly to me. But as Twitter gets more active as the number of users on there grows, it’s a challenge. Even though I think the Wall Street journal came with a stop the other day that said like 44% of Twitter accounts have never Tweeted. And I thought, my God! I wish those people where in my list because I think like everybody is talking all the time…
James: Are you a fan of Twitter lists?
Ann: I don’t use them. I mean it’s kind of funny. But I don’t use scheduled tweets. I don’t necessarily use lists. I mean I’ve tried them all and I just keep going back to the desktop. My approach to it is pretty straightforward and then it’s incredibly un, what’s the word? I’m just pretty, it’s pretty simple for me. I just, want them on there, and responding. And then when I’m not, if I’m not tweeting, I’m not there. So…
James: Cool. I like to use lists so I’m able to listen to particular people. But you can get lost. I don’t like to miss the good people. So know, they’re all good people, I have to say. But I digress; So how about, tell us what’s going on. I mean I can’t wait for the book everybody writes. What else is happening? What’s happening in marketprofs and what do you guys building out anything cool and interesting? We want to know what’s going on.
Ann: Yeah. We have a couple of great programs coming up. We’ve really shifted from a straight publisher of marketing information to become more of an education and training company. And so we’re putting a lot of resources and effort into our training programs right now. So on the retail side, so to speak, so training individual marketers, we’ve got a couple of really great programs going through our MarketingProfs University training. It’s at marketingprofsu.com. We’re almost ready to launch our marketing writing boot camp which is our biggest events or biggest boot camp, biggest training program of the year. That kicks off in June. So we’re really excited about that. It’s going to be a really fantastic program.
And by the way, this is in part why I feel like there’s a need for “Everybody Writes” a book I’m working on because Marketing writing boot camp is by far, the biggest program that we run every year. So that tells me that there’s a lot of people that are really interested in this little topic. So that’s a great thing that’s coming up. We are gearing up already, believe it or not for our b2b forum this fall in Boston. It’s an annual event that we hold every year for b2b marketers. We’ll have probably about 700 marketers at the Westin Copley this year. And it’s just a wonderful event. It’s probably my, it’s like my Christmas in terms of the MarketingProfs year. It’s an event that I most anticipate and I most mourn when it goes pass. So it’s, if you’re a b2b marketer, I would love to see you there.
James: Cool. Well, as we winded it on down. How can we find you? How can we get in touch with you?
Ann: So you can pretty much find me. You can Google me. I think I’m now own the first page of Google results which I’m very happy about. A state rep by the same name of Ann Handley in Connecticut, finally retired a couple of years ago. So it’s like thank God, she can stop competing for my name. On Google, she’s in the news far less. But no, I’m kidding. You can find me at annhandley.com which is my personal website where I write about marketing and writing and social media and sometimes, just life. Or you can find me on either my MarketingProfs Twitter handle or on my Ann Handley twitter handle.
James: Great. And I heard you are a big fan of Instagram as well?
Ann: Oh, yes! How could I forget that? Yes, actually, very, very true. I’m a huge fan of Instagram. I love that platform so much as, which is funny for me as a writer, I just never thought that I would connect with it. But it’s a great platform for storytelling and it’s really opened my eyes to the power of the visual. So yes, I’m in it, at Ann Handley on Instagram as well.
James: Beautiful. And listen, I want to have you back when the book comes out so we can talk about it and get it out there, help you, yeah. Thank you so much for your time, Ann. And I appreciate it and I want you to have a great rest of the day. And I will talk to you real soon.
Ann: Yeah, James. Thanks so much. This is really, really fun.
James: Awesome, thank you.